The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency on Oct. 28 released the transcript of an Oct. 9 public hearing on two draft air construction permits for the FutureGen 2.0 clean coal project, to be located at the shut Meredosia power plant.
The Illinois EPA is taking written comment on the two draft air permits until Nov. 8. Incidentally, the U.S. Department of Energy, which would provide about $1bn in federal funding for this project, on Oct. 25 released the final environmental impact statement for the project, which is due to go into construction next year and be completed in 2017.
The FutureGen Industrial Alliance, as the project operator, and Ameren Energy Resources, as the Meredosia plant owner, have applied for the air permits. The oxy-combustion power plant, at 168 MWe gross capacity, will include construction of a coal-fired oxy-combustion boiler, auxiliary boiler, three cooling towers, and other ancillary operations and modification of existing coal-handling operations and other operations at thesource. The new plant will replace the existing boilers at the Meredosia Energy Center.
The plant will demonstrate oxy-combustion and carbon capture and sequestration technologies at full scale for a coal-fired electrical generating unit in a project that is considered a key to any long-term viability that coal-fired power has in the U.S. power industry.
As compared to conventional boiler technology, use of oxy-combustion will result in a smaller volume of exhaust from the boiler. However, there is a higher concentration of CO2 in the exhaust. As a consequence, the CO2 from the new plant will be more readily captured than from a conventional steam boiler power plant. Much of the CO2 from the plant will be piped and injected into an underground geological formation in eastern Morgan County, Ill.
One air construction permit is for the power plant itself, while the other is for a backup engine to be located at the site of the separate CO2 sequestration facility in eastern Morgan County.
Company witnesses point out the benefits of the project
Steve Whitworth, Director of Environmental Services for Ameren, spoke at the hearing. “Meredosia Energy Center is an Ameren Energy Generating Company electrical generation facility located here in Meredosia,” he said. “The Energy Center has been a source of electrical power, jobs and tax revenue for the community since 1948. The facility includes five coal-fired boilers and one oil-fired boiler providing steam to four steam turbine generators. Ameren has invested $36 million in recent years in pollution control upgrades to this Energy Center. However, because of the age and design of the boilers and recently promulgated environmental requirements, costly changes to the facility would be required to keep the facility operating. As a result, Ameren has contemplated various options for utilizing this facility to the fullest extent, resulting in our application for the FutureGen project.”
Lucy Swartz, Chief Operating Officer for the FutureGen Alliance, which includes coal producers Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR) and Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU), also spoke.
“The FutureGen project is a first-of-its-kind near-zero emissions coal fuelled power plant that is fully integrated with geologic CO2 capture and storage,” Swartz said. “As part of the project, a unit in the Meredosia Energy Center will be upgraded with oxy-combustion technology to capture approximately 1.1 million metric tons of CO2 each year – more than 90 percent of the plant’s carbon emissions. Other air and water pollutant emissions and effluents will be reduced to very low levels. Using safe and proven pipeline technology, the CO2 will be transported by pipeline and stored underground at a storage site in northeastern Morgan County. The project will also include a visitors’, research and training center – the FutureGen Center.”
Sierra Club criticizes what the draft plant permit says, and doesn’t say
Terri Treacy from the Illinois Sierra Club was a critical voice at the hearing, stating that the draft air permit for the power plant doesn’t ensure that FutureGen will actually capture 90% of its carbon emissions. Treacy said the draft permit would allow all of the CO2 to be emitted without a formal mandate that any of it be captured.
“Our understanding is that is not FutureGen’s intent,” Treacy said. “Therefore, we urge IEPA to go back to the drawing board and come up with permit limits that match FutureGen’s stated intent.”
In addition, said Treacy, the facility would be able to emit “excessive” amounts of SO2, NOx, fine particulate matter, lead, and other pollutants. “Again, FutureGen may intend to do better, but this permit gives no assurance that it will,” Treacy said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently prepared new source performance standards for greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants, Treacy noted. “The draft permit should examine how FutureGen’s plans to emit over 1 million tons of greenhouse gases annually would comply with these new standards,” Treacy added. “We disagree that these standards are not applicable because FutureGen proposes to offset the increase in carbon emissions from this facility with carbon emissions from the long-shuttered Meredosia Energy Center. This is legally problematic for two reasons.”
- First, Treacy said that EPA only allows a company to offset or net out of Clean Air Act requirements if there are actual contemporaneous reductions in emissions, the emissions that must fall within a period defined as five years before the proposed construction date of the new facility. That would mean that the emission reductions would have to have occurred between July 2009 and July 2014. However, FutureGen Alliance is trying to use a contemporaneous period that goes back to February 2007, over seven years from when construction is expected to begin, which is two years beyond the allowable window for contemporaneous period, Treacy added.
- Second, EPA has issued a series of guidance documents requiring whether a source which has been shutdown is subject to prevention of significant deterioration (PSD) review upon reactivation. A shutdown lasting for two years or more or resulting in removal of the source from the emissions inventory of the state should be presumed permanent, Treacy said. Review of the record shows that Ameren intended to shut down the Meredosia center permanently at the time of its closure at the end of 2011.