AUSTIN (KXAN) — Environmentalists are renewing concerns over a Central Texas coal power plant and the potential impact on people and the environment.

“Austin has some responsibility for the poisoning,” said Barbara Fetonte who spent Wednesday protesting at Austin Energy’s headquarters.

She wasn’t alone as about a dozen others joined her, chanting and waving signs.

“In Fayette County, the people are hurting,” said protester Danny Fetonte. “The people are frustrated.”

The group wants to see more environmentally friendly ways of producing power, but that’s not all.

“Our hope is that we can convince Austin Energy that there is a need for independent comprehensive testing out in Fayette and they fund that testing,” said Fetonte.

The group says coal ash from the plant is harming people, ground water and the soil near the Fayette Power Project coal plant.

“We don’t want them to get out of it (FPP),” said Danny. “We want them to transition to solar which they can fight for.”

“In October 2021, Austin Energy provided an update about extensive, multi-year negotiations with the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) about the Fayette Power Project (FPP) coal plant. Austin Energy has been unable to reach mutually agreeable terms that would allow the utility to affordably retire its share of FPP as originally envisioned. Austin Energy co-owns FPP with LCRA and will continue to run its portion while still meeting its carbon reduction goals. Austin Energy continues to evaluate the timeframe and approach to replace current fossil fuel resources with carbon-free energy while maintaining grid reliability and customer affordability.” -Statement from Austin Energy Spokesperson.

The debate over the coal plant has been going on for years.

The LCRA tells KXAN that they intend to continue operating Fayette Power Project as long as it continues to be a reliable, cost-effective source of power.

LCRA and Austin energy co-own units 1 and 2 of the Fayette Power Project. LCRA owns unit 3.

Luke Metzger with Environment Texas says for now the coal plant could be helping keep the lights on in Texas, especially with tight grid conditions, but overall coal plants aren’t good for the environment.

“Clean energy can help us avoid some of the worst pollution problems and climate change problems from coal plants and make sure our electric grid is still fine,” said Metzger.

LCRA said FPP helped keep the lights on Wednesday.

Austin Energy will continue to maintain a diverse generation portfolio (currently 66% carbon free) consisting of:
Contracts with six solar farms (645MW)
Contracts with eight wind projects (1425 MW)
Four quick start gas turbines at Decker (200 MW)
The Sandhill Energy Center (570 MW), which consists of a combined cycle natural gas unit and six quick-start natural gas peaking turbines
The South Texas Nuclear Project (430 MW)
The Fayette coal plant (570 MW)
The Nacogdoches biomass plant (100 MW)

The LCRA says the FPP meets all applicable environmental state and federal rules and regulations. This includes required soil sampling and regular monitoring and testing groundwater. They say repeated testing has shown that groundwater at the FPP does not pose a public health risk.

Who conducts the testing?

The LCRA or a contractor conducts the testing according to state and federal protocols said the LCRA.

Fetonte says they plan to meet every other Wednesday until Austin Energy works with them to make changes.