Big Brown Steam Electric Station

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This article is part of the Coal Issues portal on SourceWatch, a project of Global Energy Monitor and the Center for Media and Democracy. See here for help on adding material to CoalSwarm.

This article is part of the CoalSwarm coverage of coal plants

Big Brown Steam Electric Station is a coal-fired power station owned and operated by Luminant near Fairfield, Texas.

The power station was shut down on February 12, 2018. According to the Sierra Club, Big Brown’s closure ended the largest source of sulfur dioxide in the US in 2016, according to EIA data.[1]


The now retired power station was located northeast of Fairfield, Texas, near Fairfield Lake State Park in Freestone County, Texas.

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Plant Data

  • Owner: Luminant
  • Parent Company: Vistra
  • Plant Nameplate Capacity: 1,187 MW
  • Units and In-Service Dates: 593 MW (1971), 593 MW (1972)
  • Location: 850 FM 2570, Fairfield, TX 75840
  • GPS Coordinates: 31.8205, -96.054
  • Coal Consumption:
  • Coal Source: Big Brown Mine, Powder River Basin
  • Number of Employees:

Planned retirement

In October 2017 plant owner Luminant said it plans to retire the power station by February 12, 2018. The company also plans to retire its Sandow power 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][3] The following month, Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) approved of the shut down.[4] ERCOT found the two-unit Big Brown plant was "not required to support ERCOT transmission system reliability," and authorized its closure by February 12, 2018.[5]

Emissions Data

  • 2006 CO2 Emissions: 10,942,645 tons
  • 2006 SO2 Emissions: 96,221 tons
  • 2006 SO2 Emissions per MWh:
  • 2006 NOx Emissions: 6,972 tons
  • 2005 Mercury Emissions: 1,196 lb.

Sierra Club calls for closure of three coal plants in Texas

On March 18, 2011 the Sierra Club released a report stating that three of Luminant's coal plants in East Texas should be shut down because the facilities do not meet Clean Air Act standards and need $3.6 billion in upgrades in order to comply with federal regulations.

The three plants targeted were Big Brown, Monticello Steam Station and the Martin Lake Steam Station plant. The Sierra Club expressed concern about "the major threats to air and water pollution that citizens in the Barnett Shale [in North Texas] are dealing with firsthand."[6][7]

The study recommended:

"[R]eplacement of three coal fired power plants built in the 1970’s (Big Brown, Monticello and Martin Lake) is a financial and environmental necessity. The plants, currently owned by Energy Future Holding/Luminant and serving North Texas are financially mismanaged, cannot compete profitably in the current market, require pollution control upgrades that are unaffordable and have suffered deep losses in market value. The financial outlook for the company and the plants going forward show very little upside. A broad look at the national and Texas energy market suggest planning tools and resources exist to ensure a smooth transition to a more financially stable and reliable supply of electricity."


In September 2011 it was reported that Big Brown's Units 1 and 2 would switch to Powder River Basin coal and would end lignite mining at three of its Texas mines.[8]

Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from Big Brown Electric 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.[9] 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.[10]

Table 1: Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from Big Brown Electric Station

Type of Impact Annual Incidence Valuation
Deaths 44 $320,000,000
Heart attacks 66 $7,300,000
Asthma attacks 810 $42,000
Hospital admissions 32 $750,000
Chronic bronchitis 28 $13,000,000
Asthma ER visits 50 $18,000

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

Big Brown second highest mercury emitter in 2009

The 2011 Environmental Defense Fund report, "Mercury Alert: Cleaning up Coal Plants for Healthier Lives" found that 25 plants alone are responsible for nearly a third of all mercury emissions in the power sector, while providing only eight percent of U.S. electricity. The findings are based on 2009 U.S. Department of Energy data. The plant with the second highest mercury emissions was Big Brown Steam Electric Station, releasing 1,362 lbs in 2009.[11]

Articles and Resources


  1. "Wyoming coal customer closes in Texas as planned," Star Tribune, Feb 12, 2018
  2. "Luminant to Close Two Texas Power Plants," Vistra, Oct. 13, 2017
  3. Koenig, Allan (October 13, 2017). Luminant to Close Two Texas Power Plants. Luminant. Retrieved on October 15, 2017.
  4. Handy, Ryan Maye (November 20, 2017). "Layoffs on way as grid operator approves coal plant closures", Houston Chronicle. Retrieved on November 21, 2017. 
  5. ERCOT OKs Vistra's plan to retire 2,400 MW coal capacity in Texas - Houston (Platts)--6 Nov 2017
  6. "Sierra Club calls for closure of three Luminant coal plants in Texas" Jack Z. Smith, Star-Telegram, March 17, 2011.
  7. "The Case to Retire Big Brown, Monticello and Martin Lake Coal Plants," prepared for Sierra Club by Tom Sanzillo, TR Rose Associates, March 17, 2011
  8. "Texas Utility to Idle Boilers, Coal Mines in Response to New EPA Rule" Gabriel Nelson, New York Times, September 12, 2001.
  9. "The Toll from Coal: An Updated Assessment of Death and Disease from America's Dirtiest Energy Source," Clean Air Task Force, September 2010.
  10. "Technical Support Document for the Powerplant Impact Estimator Software Tool," Prepared for the Clean Air Task Force by Abt Associates, July 2010
  11. "Mercury Alert: Cleaning up Coal Plants for Healthier Lives" Environmental Defense Fund report, March 2011.

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