The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved revisions to the Maryland State Implementation Plan that cover higher natural gas use at two units of GenOn Energy’s (NYSE: GEN) Chalk Point power plant.
The revisions had been submitted to EPA by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) relating specifically to air issues at Chalk Point, said EPA in a May 4 Federal Register notice. These revisions approve specific provisions of a 2011 Consent Decree between MDE and GenOn to reduce particulate matter (PM), SOX and NOx from Chalk Point. These revisions also remove 1978 and 1979 Consent Orders for Chalk Point from the Maryland SIP as those orders have been superseded by the 2011 Consent Decree. This rule is effective on July 3.
In October 2011, MDE submitted revisions to its SIP for Chalk Point. The purpose of the 2011 Consent Decree is to address stack test violations at Chalk Point Unit 4. As part of the settlement with MDE, GenOn agreed to combust natural gas in Units 3 and 4 for no less than 75% of the annual heat input of the units, and for at least 95% of the ozone season (May-September each year) heat input instead of #6 fuel oil. Burning natural gas instead of #6 fuel oil results in a significant decrease in emissions of PM, SOX and NOx.
Chalk Point consists of four steam electric units located in Aquasco, Md. Units 1 and 2 are coal-fired baseload units each rated at 355 MW. Units 3 and 4 are cycling units permitted to burn natural gas and oil, each rated at 640 MW. Consent Orders signed in 1978 and 1979 with the Potomac Electric Power Co. (Pepco, the former owner) allowed Chalk Point Units 1-3 to combust higher sulfur fuels than Maryland regulations allow and Unit 3 was also allowed to emit higher PM and visible emissions than Maryland regulations allow.
In 2006, MDE and Pepco signed a Consent Decree to address opacity (visible emissions) violations from Chalk Point Units 3 and 4. That 2006 Consent Decree required Units 3 and 4 to burn natural gas during the ozone season for 95% of the heat input. The 2006 Consent Decree for Chalk Point also terminated the 1978 and 1979 Consent Orders with Pepco, effective May 1, 2007. However, the Maryland SIP was not revised at that time to remove the 1978 and 1979 Consent Orders and replace them with the 2006 Consent Decree.