While the Trump administration says the “war on coal” is over, market forces are having their say when it comes to the fossil fuel, closing plants in several Texas communities. Texas’ largest generator of coal-powered energy, Luminant, says it is ceasing operations at two plants in the state. The company says Texas’ competitive energy market and cheap natural gas make these older coal-fired plants unprofitable. Another Texas coal operator has already announced plans to close two facilities.
Luminant’s sudden announcement came as a shock for the central Texas communities near the plants. Chris Whittaker, the city manager of Rockdale, says the area has already lost major employers, with the closing of an Alcoa plant in 2008. That closure cost Rockdale 1400 jobs. Whittaker says Rockdale’s tax base will take a hit from the Luminant pullout.
“Luminant’s closure is surely an impact to local residents and to the county,” Whittaker says. “For example, the devaluation of the property will affect the county for taxes. It will also affect the school district, potentially for number of students, and eventually teachers, because that’s how teachers are largely funded, by student population.”
Whittaker says he doesn’t know how many Luminant employees live in Rockdale, or are likely to leave town because of the plant closures. He says the city has worked to attract smaller businesses since the Alcoa plant’s closing.
“We’ve taken steps to develop our industrial park. We’re putting in a plastics manufacturing business out there,” he says. “We’ve got a nursing home that’s expanding, with an additional 24 jobs, and then we’ve got a plastics recycling company that’s starting operations here in Rockdale. So we expect to gain some jobs her over the next three to five years.”
Whittaker says Rockdale will also get a boost from the eastward expansion of the Austin metro area. But losing a major employer is still a blow.
“We mourn the loss of jobs to the region, whether it affects Rockdale, or Elgin or other cities,” he says. “No one wants to see manufacturing jobs go away. And people leave our community.”
Written by Shelly Brisbin.