Environmental groups oppose, politicians support Ameren delay

Several environmental groups filed a protest with the Illinois Pollution Control Board to a petition by Ameren Energy Resources for a break on 2015 and 2017 SO2 control deadlines under the state’s Multi-Pollutant Standard.

AER, a unit of Ameren Corp. (NYSE: AEE), on May 3 requested that the board grant a variance from provisions of the Illinois Multi-Pollutant Standard (MPS) for five years beginning Jan. 1, 2015, and ending Dec. 31, 2019, and relief from another section for four years, beginning Jan. 1, 2017, and ending Dec. 31, 2020.

“AER requests additional time to comply with the 2015 and 2017 SO2 emission rates because, among other things, declining power market prices have resulted in an insufficient cash flow necessary to finance and maintain the construction completion schedule of flue gas desulfurization (‘FGD’) equipment at the Newton Energy Center (‘Newton FGD Project’) in time to meet those rates,” AER wrote.

AER has instituted measures to conserve cash and has already ceased operation at two of its least economic facilities. In recent years it has spent nearly $1bn installing state-of-the-art FGD systems and ancillary pollution control equipment at its energy centers resulting in a drop in SO2 emissions of 79% since 1990 and 23% over the past four years. Under AER’s current MPS compliance plan, the completion of the Newton FGD project is the next step in complying with the 2015 and 2017 SO2 rates. AER said it expects to continue limited construction activities at Newton to the extent it can financially do so.

The proposed voluntary emissions rate that AER wants to comply with during the variance period will effectively commit it to the cessation of operations at the Hutsonville and Meredosia coal plants while maximizing FGD performance at the Duck Creek and Coffeen coal plants.

Groups say Ameren made a deal, now it needs to stick to it

Environment Illinois, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago and the Sierra Club (collectively known as the Citizens Groups) on May 31 filed a protest with the board. “[T]he Board should deny the Petition because the Multi-Pollutant Standard (‘MPS’) Ameren now seeks to avoid reflects a settlement among multiple parties, including the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (‘Illinois EPA’) and Citizens Groups, which Ameren proposed, agreed to, opted into, and benefitted from. The Board must hold Ameren to that agreement.”

The groups added: “As Ameren acknowledges in its Petition, the MPS was a result of negotiations in which Ameren took a lead role. Not only did Ameren just acknowledge this, but it extolled this agreement that allows owners of Electric Generating Units (‘EGUs’) to meet mercury limits less stringent than would otherwise be required as long as they meet certain emission standards and technology requirements for SO2 and nitrogen oxides (‘NOx’). Specifically, the MPS gave EGU owners a time-limited ability to ‘opt in’ to meeting MPS requirements for SO2 and NOx, and, in exchange, the right to delay compliance with numeric or input-based mercury limits until at least 2015, or, in the case of certain smaller EGUs, the option to meet a carbon injection requirement instead of an emission limit.”

The groups added: “Both MPS mercury control options are less stringent than the requirements of the Illinois Mercury Rule, which applies to EGU owners that do not opt in to the MPS or the similar Combined Pollutant Standard (‘CPS’). Thus, using the MPS relieves EGU owners from compliance with more onerous mercury requirements in the Illinois Mercury Rule provided they comply with the SO2 and NOx components of the rule.”

The groups said Ameren now wants to “have its cake and eat it, too,” by reaping the benefit of being subject for years to the less stringent mercury standards without meeting the SO2 standards on the agreed schedule.

Local politicians say Newton plant a key economic driver

In the meantime, local politicians are supporting the delay. For example, Jasper County Board Chairman Ed Mitchell wrote in May 31 comments: “Ameren Energy Generating Company’s Newton Energy Center has been a partner with Jasper County and the surrounding area since 1977. They have always maintained a well-operated facility investing in several areas of their infrastructures, including environmental and emission controls, safety devices, additional cooling ponds to assist aquatic life, etc. They are presently investing more than one half billion dollars in the addition of a new state of the art scrubber to prevent or greatly reduce sulfur dioxide emissions. At the present time, I believe that they have completed the concrete silo for this new scrubber system. Due to the poor economy and a very slow economic recovery an extension of time should be considered.”

Local state Sen. Dale Righter wrote in a May 22 letter to the board: “As the State Senator for the 55th District, I know the disastrous economic impact that would follow if the single largest private employer in Jasper County were closed. The Ameren Newton facility pays the bulk of the property taxes in Jasper County which totaled over $7.4 million in 2010.”

State Rep. Michael Unes said in a May 21 letter to the board that he represents the district where the Edwards and Duck Creek plants are located. “These two plants employ dozens of my constituents and without this variance request, those jobs will be in jeopardy,” he added. “This would be very harmful to our economic climate in Central lllinois and the Spoon River Valley.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.