Despite Objections- More Coal Planned for Panhandle

Protestors in the Lone Star State are targeting coal as a dirty power source... but it could still figure prominently in the future of Texas panhandle energy.

 Xcel Energy is considering coal among other new sources to meet demand that's rising higher than expected. 

Xcel spokesman Wes Reeves tells me the company installed nearly 20% more electricity meters for new customers in 2006 than originally planned. 

Reeves says coal-fired power plants in Amarillo and Muleshoe currently generate the lion's share of electricity for about 400-thousand customers in the panhandle area, high plains, and eastern New Mexico...but that can only last so long.

While plans for more coal power elsewhere in Texas are drawing fire from environmental and health advocacy critics... Reeves says coal is a resource that can't be ignored. 

"In spite of all the talk about it contributing to climate change we have to use coal, we can't just immediately turn the switch and not use coal anymore."

The Environmental Protection Agency tells me both Xcel plants in our area meet all federal clean air quality standards.

And while Reeves says Xcel has no immediate plans to build new coal-powered plants in our area,  he notes that existing plants could remain in operation another two to three decades.. but could not handle the area's growing electricity needs alone.

"I'd say we're okay in terms of the next five years in terms of our power supply, it's getting tighter all the time and we want a tighter cushion then we've got so we're looking for more power supplies at this point."

One thing the company is experimenting with is combination gas and coal sources to burn gas instead of coal.