Sierra Club threatens to sue Colorado Springs over coal emissions

Colorado Springs Utilities said in a Sept. 20 posting on its blog that earlier in the week, the Sierra Club filed an intent to sue the municipal utility for alleged clean air violations at its Drake and Nixon coal-fired power plants.

“While we’re disappointed, we are not surprised,” said the blog entry. “The Sierra Club is on a crusade against affordable energy and has filed similar notices with many coal-fired power plants across the nation over the past few years.”

Over the last seven years, the Martin Drake power plant has been inspected on five occasions by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for permit compliance with no violations, CSU noted. It is required to report any excess visible emissions on a quarterly basis, and during the last seven years the plant has achieved a 99.9989% compliance record with visible emissions standards, including continuous compliance since October 2008. CSU said it has reduced particulate emissions by more than 99% and NOx emissions by more than 50% with the addition of pollution controls that are currently operating.

Ongoing testing continues to show all CSU units qualify as low emitters under the state mercury rule, and they already meet the federal Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) to take effect in 2015, CSU said, adding: “Our coal units are among the lowest emitters of mercury in the nation.”

Both Drake and Nixon burn very low-sulfur coal, which directly translates to less SO2 emissions. Additional planned pollution controls will reduce SO2 by more than 90% and NOx by 30%.

“We’re proud of our environmental record, and we are equally proud of our efforts to adopt an energy policy that promotes a diverse mix of energy resources, including solar, wind, biofuels, hydro, natural gas and coal,” CSU said. “Our balanced approach advances environmental goals in a manner that insulates our local economy and is advocated by both State and Federal policy makers.”

Sierra Club claims there have been past violations

The blog provides a link to a CSU fact sheet on the Sierra Club website, which says in part: “On May 25, 2011, the State of Colorado submitted its proposed Regional Haze [State Implementation Plan (SIP)] to the EPA. On March 26, 2011, the EPA proposed to approve the Colorado Regional Haze SIP with respect to the Martin Drake coal plant. The plan submitted by Colorado set a sulfur dioxide (SO2) limit for Martin Drake at 0.26 lb/MMbtu (unit 5) and 0.13 lb/MMbtu (units 6 and 7), which is achievable with dry sorbent injection (unit 5) and lime spray dryers (units 6 and 7). The State noted, however, that Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) would be allowed to install another technology, a pilot-scale and experimental wet scrubber control system called the NeuStream-S FGD process, if it could demonstrate that the system would achieve equal or better emissions than the BART limits established based on the use of lime spray dryers.”

The Sierra Club fact sheet said that CSU has made dozens of modifications to both Martin Drake and Ray Nixon in recent decades, most of which should have triggered New Source Review under the Clean Air Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) program. CSU did not apply for a PSD permit with the state before undertaking these modifications, the club said.

CSU will need to undergo a Best Available Control Technology (BACT) determination for Martin Drake and Ray Nixon, which could lead to more stringent pollution limits, the club said. The BACT limits may not be met by the NeuStream-S FGD process that CSU currently intends to install to meet Best Available Retrofit Technology (BART) requirements, the club added.

“Installing another round of pollution controls to meet the more protective BACT pollution limits could potentially cost hundreds of millions of dollars,” the fact sheet said. “In addition, CSU could face millions of dollars in civil penalties for its past violations.”

The coal units at Martin Drake, Units 5-7, have a combined net capacity of 254 MW, said the CSU website. The most economical coal for the plant is low-sulfur Powder River Basin coal, the website noted.

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.