Federal board sends Sierra Pacific biomass permit back to EPA

The federal Environmental Appeals Board on July 18 sent an air permit for a biomass-fired boiler of Sierra Pacific Industries back to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a hearing on the permit.

Three individuals, including Celeste Draisner, separately petitioned the board to review a Clean Air Act prevention of significant deterioration (PSD) permit that EPA’s Region 9 issued to Sierra Pacific Industries on Feb. 22. The permit authorizes Sierra Pacific to construct and operate a new biomass-fired boiler at its lumber mill in the City of Anderson in Shasta County, Calif.

All of the petitioners challenged the Region’s decision not to hold a public hearing on the draft permit. Collectively, they also asserted that the Region made several other procedural and substantive errors in approving the permit, including:

  • exempting the proposed facility from CO2 limits;
  • improperly paraphrasing submitted comments in the Region’s response to comments document;
  • failing to consider comments submitted directly to the permit writer instead of to the address indicated in the Region’s public notice;
  • treating Sierra Pacific’s proposed new boiler as a modification to its current PSD permit instead of a new PSD source;
  • improperly evaluating the air quality impacts of fine particulate matter emissions;
  • relying on outdated air models; and
  • failing to consider solar energy and variations of the new boiler’s fuel mix when determining the best available control technology (BACT).

The board, in its July 18 ruling, sent the permit back to EPA for a public hearing, but denied review of the other issues raised.

Currently, Sierra Pacific operates a wood-fired boiler with associated air pollution control equipment and conveyance systems at its lumber manufacturing facility in Anderson. In March 2010, Sierra Pacific requested the Region’s approval to construct and operate at this same location a new cogeneration unit burning clean cellulosic biomass during normal operations and natural gas for startup and shutdown.

Sierra Pacific’s proposed new cogen is to be used for producing steam to heat its existing kilns for drying lumber, and to generate electricity both for use at the Sierra Pacific facility in Anderson and for sale to the electrical grid. Sierra Pacific indicated that the new proposed boiler will have the capacity to consume a maximum of 219,000 bone-dry tons (BDT) of biomass per year. About 80,000 BDT will be generated by the facility’s existing lumber operations at its current output, and additional wood fuel will be transported by truck to the facility from Sierra Pacific’s other lumber operations in California.

Said the board about the need for a hearing in a case like this: “Where, as here, there are several hearing requests, each raising issues the statute has defined as material to the hearing, the Region has an obligation to consider them as a factor in deciding that there may be a significant degree of public interest, not just determining that commenters can submit those concerns in writing in lieu of having a public hearing.”

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.