Sandow power station

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Sandow power station is a retired power station in Rockdale, Milam, Texas, United States.


Table 1: Project-level location details

Plant name Location Coordinates (WGS 84)
Sandow power station Rockdale, Milam, Texas, United States 30.567225, -97.060811 (exact)

The map below shows the exact location of the power station.

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Unit-level coordinates (WGS 84):

  • Unit 1, Unit 2, Unit 3, Unit 4, Unit 5: 30.567225, -97.060811

Project Details

Table 2: Unit-level details

Unit name Status Fuel(s) Capacity (MW) Technology Start year Retired year
Unit 1 retired coal - lignite 121 subcritical 1953 2009
Unit 2 retired coal - lignite 121 subcritical 1954 2009
Unit 3 retired coal - lignite 121 subcritical 1954 2009
Unit 4 retired coal - lignite 590.6 supercritical 1981 2018
Unit 5 retired coal - lignite 661.5 subcritical 2009 2018

Table 3: Unit-level ownership and operator details

Unit name Owner
Unit 1 Luminant Generation Co LLC [100.0%]
Unit 2 Luminant Generation Co LLC [100.0%]
Unit 3 Luminant Generation Co LLC [100.0%]
Unit 4 Luminant Generation Co LLC [100.0%]
Unit 5 Luminant Generation Co LLC [100.0%]

Project-level captive use details

  • Captive industry use (heat or power): aluminum
  • Captive industry: Power



Units 1-3 were owned by Alcoa and units 4-5 by Luminant of Vistra Energy. Units 1-3 were retired by Alcoa under consent decree in 2009.[1] Units 4-5 were retired in January 2018 due to economic factors including low natural gas prices and growth in renewable energy.[2]

Units 1-3

Units 1-3 of the coal power plant was commissioned by Alcoa in 1953-1954 to power its nearby aluminium smelting facility.[3]

The power plant uses lignite from the Three Oaks Mine in nearby Bastrop County, Texas.[4] Transmission of electricity to the nearby aluminum smelter stopped in 2008 when Alcoa ceased smelting operations at its Rockdale facility and accused Luminant of power supply issues.[5]

Units 1-3 were retired by Alcoa under consent decree in 2009.[6]

Alcoa, Inc. Clean Air Act Settlement

On April 9, 2003 the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. EPA announced a settlement agreement with Alcoa Inc. for an estimated $330 million to install a new coal-fired power plant at its aluminum production facility in Rockdale, Texas with upgraded pollution controls to help eliminate sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions.

The settlement resolved allegations filed in federal court by the EPA and its co-plaintiffs, Neighbors for Neighbors, Inc., Environmental Defense, and Public Citizen that the company had unlawfully operated the Sandow Station since it overhauled the Rockdale power plant without installing necessary pollution controls and without first obtaining proper permits required by the New Source Review program of the Clean Air Act.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's executive director Margaret Hoffman said, “As a result of this joint investigation and cooperative effort between state and federal officials, Texans will enjoy cleaner air. That's a victory for everyone.”

The EPA notes that Alcoa's coal-fired plant, located in northeast of Austin, was the single largest non-utility source of SO2 and NOx emissions in the country. The plant generates electricity for two aluminum smelters and a strip-mining operation that supplies lignite coal for the power plant. The aluminum at the plant is used for truck wheels, cans, die-casts, machinery, components for telecommunication devices and appliances.

Alcoa also paid a $1.5 million civil suit and $2.5 million on two additional environmental projects in an attempt to offset past emissions.[7]

Unit 4

Unit 4 with nameplate capacity of 591 MW was commissioned in 1981. It is owned by Dallas-based Luminant and is located on-site of the smelting plant to provide power for it. In 2008, Alcoa and Luminant fought over the operation of Sandow 4 and pricing issues. In June 2008, Alcoa idled half the Rockdale smelting plant’s production, citing the high cost of buying replacement power when Luminant’s on-site Sandow unit was was shut numerous times for maintenance. In September 2008 Alcoa said it will continue to pay its cost of generation from Sandow Unit 4 and will attempt to recover that cost by marketing the power in the Texas energy market.[8]

Unit 5

Sandow 5 is a 581 MW unit that uses circulating fluidized bed technology and burns Texas lignite coal. It is owned by Luminant (formerly TXU) of Vistra Energy.[9] Sandow 5 is the fifth coal-fired plant at the Sandow Station. Luminant bought rights to build Sandow 5 (and the accompanying permit) from Alcoa in 2005. In August 2006, TXU and Alcoa went to court to loosen the terms of the 2003 consent decree, but were rebuked by U.S District Judge Sam Sparks. Construction was permitted in March 2007, when the U.S. District Court approved a stipulated resolution of the consent decree for the plant. This followed a lengthy litigation of TXU’s proposed 11 plants by a coalition of environmental groups.[10]

In July 2009, Luminant announced that the Sandow 5 unit would not go into full operation before September. Although the unit was synchronized to the grid and producing power in early July, construction delays and equipment issues prevented it from meeting a deadline for operation and emissions standards. The company expects the delay to take two or three months.[11]

Sandow Unit 5 began operating in late September 2009.[12]

Retirement of units 4-5

In October 2017 plant owner Luminant said it plans to retire the power station by January 11, 2018. The company also plans to retire its Big Brown Steam Electric Station. According to Luminant: "These two plants are economically challenged in the competitive ERCOT market. Sustained low wholesale power prices, an oversupplied renewable generation market, and low natural gas prices, along with other factors, have contributed to this decision."[2][13]

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) approved the shut down the following month.[14] ERCOT found the plant was "not required to support ERCOT transmission system reliability," and closed by January 11, 2018.[15]

Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from Sandow Station

In 2010, Abt Associates issued a study commissioned by the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, quantifying the deaths and other health effects attributable to fine particle pollution from coal-fired power plants.[16] Fine particle pollution consists of a complex mixture of soot, heavy metals, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. Among these particles, the most dangerous are those less than 2.5 microns in diameter, which are so tiny that they can evade the lung's natural defenses, enter the bloodstream, and be transported to vital organs. Impacts are especially severe among the elderly, children, and those with respiratory disease. The study found that over 13,000 deaths and tens of thousands of cases of chronic bronchitis, acute bronchitis, asthma, congestive heart failure, acute myocardial infarction, dysrhythmia, ischemic heart disease, chronic lung disease, and pneumonia each year are attributable to fine particle pollution from U.S. coal plant emissions. These deaths and illnesses are major examples of coal's external costs, i.e. uncompensated harms inflicted upon the public at large. Low-income and minority populations are disproportionately impacted as well, due to the tendency of companies to avoid locating power plants upwind of affluent communities. To monetize the health impact of fine particle pollution from each coal plant, Abt assigned a value of $7,300,000 to each 2010 mortality, based on a range of government and private studies. Valuations of illnesses ranged from $52 for an asthma episode to $440,000 for a case of chronic bronchitis.[17]

Table 1: Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from Sandow Station

Type of Impact Annual Incidence Valuation
Deaths 8 $62,000,000
Heart attacks 13 $1,400,000
Asthma attacks 160 $8,000
Hospital admissions 6 $150,000
Chronic bronchitis 5 $2,400,000
Asthma ER visits 9 $4,000

Source: "Find Your Risk from Power Plant Pollution," Clean Air Task Force interactive table, accessed February 2011

Emissions Data (total for all units)

  • 2006 CO2 Emissions: 4,901,917 tons
  • 2006 SO2 Emissions: 23,747 tons
  • 2006 SO2 Emissions per MWh:
  • 2006 NOx Emissions: 4,307 tons
  • 2005 Mercury Emissions: 524 lb.

Articles and Resources


  1. "Luminant Texas Sandow coal unit seen back in service," Reuters, July 12, 2010
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Luminant to Close Two Texas Power Plants," Vistra, Oct. 13, 2017
  3. "Sandow, TX". Texas State Historical Association (TSHA). Retrieved October 15, 2017.
  4. Koenig, Allan (October 13, 2017). "Luminant to Close Two Texas Power Plants" (PDF). Luminant. Retrieved October 15, 2017. {{cite web}}: Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  5. "Alcoa stops aluminum production at Texas smelter". Reuters. September 30, 2008. Retrieved October 15, 2017. {{cite news}}: Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  6. "Luminant Texas Sandow coal unit seen back in service," Reuters, July 12, 2010
  7. "U. S. Announces Clean Air Act Coal-fired Power Plant Settlement with Alcoa - Settlement Will Reduce Nitrogen Oxide and Sulfur Dioxide Emissions from Facility by More than 90 Percent," U.S. EPA, April 9, 2003.
  8. "Alcoa to sell Sandow 4 power after smelting ends," Reuters, Sep 30, 2008
  9. Emissions from Recently Permitted and Proposed Coal Burning Power Plants, Stop the Coal Plant website, August 7, 2007.
  10. Texas Coal Key to TXU's Pursuit of Two Plants - CEO, Reuters, March 1, 2007.
  11. "Luminant delays Texas Sandow 5 coal unit start-up," Reuters, July 20, 2009.
  12. Eileen O'Grady, "Luminant's Texas coal unit starts without fanfare," Reuters, October 19, 2009.
  13. "Vistra Energy to close two more Texas coal plants". Houston Chronicle. October 13, 2017. Retrieved October 15, 2017. {{cite news}}: Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  14. Handy, Ryan Maye (November 20, 2017). "Layoffs on way as grid operator approves coal plant closures". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved November 21, 2017. {{cite news}}: Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  15. "ERCOT OKs Vistra's plan to retire 2,400 MW coal capacity in Texas". S&P Global Platts. November 6, 2017. Retrieved December 20, 2017. {{cite news}}: Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  16. "The Toll from Coal: An Updated Assessment of Death and Disease from America's Dirtiest Energy Source," Clean Air Task Force, September 2010.
  17. "Technical Support Document for the Powerplant Impact Estimator Software Tool," Prepared for the Clean Air Task Force by Abt Associates, July 2010

Additional data

To access additional data, including an interactive map of coal-fired power stations, a downloadable dataset, and summary data, please visit the Global Coal Plant Tracker on the Global Energy Monitor website.