Victim identified in boiler explosion at Oak Grove Power Plant


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Jun 27, 2023

Victim identified in boiler explosion at Oak Grove Power Plant

One person died as the result of a boiler explosion Wednesday at the Oak Grove

One person died as the result of a boiler explosion Wednesday at the Oak Grove Power Plant in Robertson County.

One person died from a steam engine explosion at the Oak Grove Power Plant off F.M. 979 between Bremond and Franklin on Wednesday morning, according to Robertson County Emergency Management.

Shannon Payne, a 50-year-old man from Georgia, was identified as the lone casualty at the plant, according to the Robertson County Sheriff's Office.

No further injuries were reported and there was no threat to the public, according to Emergency Management.

Luminant, the owner of the 1,600-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Robertson County, issued a statement saying that the incident occurred around 8 a.m. during the commissioning of a new auxiliary boiler.

"Our on-site team immediately called 911 and implemented our emergency response protocols," the statement read. "A contractor was fatally injured. All other employees and contractors have been accounted for, and there are no other known injuries at this time."

The identity of the victim was not provided as of mid-afternoon by the Robertson County Sheriff's Office.

Luminant officials said they will work with the contractor's employer and state and federal regulators to investigate the cause of the event. Oak Grove continues in operation and is generating electricity.

The plant, which is situated 12 miles east of Bremond and 12 miles north of Franklin, opened in 2010 with two boilers, each generating 800 megawatts using lignite from a nearby mine. Luminant is a subsidiary of Vistra and generates 39,000 megawatts of electricity across 12 states.

Oak Grove was awarded POWER magazine's Plant of the Year award in 2010, but there have been multiple incidents at the plant in recent years.

In 2016, a transformer blew at the plant, which prompted response from first responders from Robertson County and Bremond. No injuries were reported during the incident. This February, KBTX reported four contract workers were taken to a Temple hospital due to possible exposure to a hazardous chemical.

Although Oak Grove has only been open since 2010, the plant was in the works since the 1970s, according to POWER magazine. In the mid-1970s, TXU approved construction of separate plants — Forest Grove and Twin Oaks — in different parts of the state, but the projects were deferred and the permits were ultimately withdrawn in 1994. In 2005, the project was renewed and revised. TXU applied for a permit using equipment from the two planned sites under the new name of Oak Grove. Construction for the plant started in 2007.

TXU officials touted the plant as an economic boom for Robertson County and promised it would bring over 250 jobs and millions of dollars in economic development, according an Eagle report in December 2005. Most community leaders supported the project. The county judge, commissioners court, the cities of Franklin, Bremond and Calvert, and the chambers of commerce in Bremond, Hearne and Franklin all signed off on the plant.

"Being a teacher for 36 years, I watched the good kids out of Robertson County grow up and have to go to Houston and Dallas and Texas City to make a living," former Robertson County Judge Fred Elliott told The Eagle in December 2005. "I wanted them to be able to stay home because there's a lot of good families here."

A small, but vocal, group of concerned residents were opposed to the project, though. The group called "Robertson County: Our Land, Our Lives" led a lengthy fight against the plant between TXU's filing in 2005 and the start of construction in 2007.

State administrative judges recommended regulators deny an air quality permit for Oak Grove in August 2006 after plant officials failed to prove environmental controls — for mercury and nitrous oxides, particularly — outlined in the draft permit were technically practical or feasible. But the power plant received a reprieve in June 2007 when TCEQ voted 2 to 1 to approve the permit and overturned the judges’ decision.

TXU spokesman Tom Kleckner told The Eagle after TCEQ's approval the company was pleased to move forward and stressed plant and company officials were being protective of both human health and the environment.

"Our goal, as one of only a handful of plants in the planning process, is getting ready to meet Texas’ growing need for power," Kleckner told The Eagle. "We’re happy to oblige."

The TX House of Representatives voted to impeach Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton on May 28. At issue for Paxton are a host of allegations concerning corruption and bribery.

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