End of an era

Rockdale is no longer a power plant-coal mining town, period

There’s no way to sugar coat or spin this one. The closing of Luminant’s Sandow 4 and 5 power plant units is a body blow to Rockdale and Milam County.

Friday’s announcement—ironically on Friday the 13th—marks the end of an era. Rockdale is no longer a power plant-coal mining town.

When the switches are shut off, probably on Jan. 11, it will mark the first time in more than 65 years our area will not have a major industry six miles to the southwest that relies on getting coal out of the ground and converting it into energy.

There are obvious parallels with the closing of Luminant and the closing of Alcoa’s smelter, now almost 10 years ago.

Both could not survive changing times and changing technologies.

In Alcoa’s case a smelter which produced its first aluminum in 1952 was still operating those same potrooms in the early 21st Century. That translated into a cost of making metal that could not compete with newer technologies and a changing global aluminum economic situation as aluminum became increasingly something that gets manufactured overseas.

Power is similar but not identical. The technology of about-to-be-shelved Sandow Unit 5 is less than 10 years old. It came on line in 2009.

But the world changed. Coal-fired power plants moved down the competitive ranks.

Just over a year ago, Luminant officials, commenting over the company’s attempts to lower its taxable values before the appraisal district, noted “(coal-fired) power plants aren’t worth what they used to be,” citing competition from natural gas-fired power facilities and “government subsidized” wind power.

Many thought that was just posturing during a lawsuit over values. Turns out it wasn’t.

None of this is any solace for the 450 employees who are losing their jobs. And their families.

Here’s where all the “we’re going to be all right”, “we’re going to stick together”, “we’ve survived worse than this before” comments are supposed to come.

Maybe later. Not now. An era has ended.

There’s not going to be any sugar coating or spinning for what happened on Friday the 13th, 2017.—M.B.

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2017-10-19 digital edition

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