Sierra Club appeals air permit for Texas gas-fired power project

The Sierra Club has appealed a recent air permit issued by regulators for an up to 735-MW, gas-fired power project of La Paloma Energy Center LLC.

The Dec. 6 petition, filed at the U.S. Environmental Appeals Board, which is an adjunct of the Environmental Protection Agency, asks for review of the conditions of a Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permit issued by EPA’s Region VI office.

On Dec. 16, La Paloma Energy Center, through its counsel, Bracewell & Giuliani LLP, filed a notice with the board that it will be offering its response brief in due course.

The permittee facility would be located at Harlingen in Cameron County, Texas. The permit from the region is dated Nov. 6, 2013.

This is a new combined-cycle plant, called the La Paloma Energy Center, that will consist of two natural gas-fired combustion turbines, each exhausting to a fired heat recovery steam generator to produce steam to drive a shared steam turbine.

Three models of combustion turbines are being considered for this site: the General Electric 7FA, the Siemens SGT6-5000F(4), and the Siemens SGT6-5000F(5). The final selection of the combustion turbine model will not be made until after the permit is issued. The plant would generate 637 MW-735 MW (gross).

Sierra Club is asking the board to review the following issues:

  • Whether the EPA region clearly erred by setting three different greenhouse gas limits, each purporting to represent best available control technology (BACT) for the proposed plant’s generating units, but ranging from 909.2 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour gross (lb CO2/MWh) to 934.5 lb CO2/MWh gross. These BACT limits differ due to the difference in heat rate between three alternative turbine technologies. Rather than selecting BACT based on the most efficient turbine that meets the applicant’s project purpose, the region set three different limits and allowed the applicant to choose which would apply depending on which turbine design was ultimately installed. “This does not comply with the top-down BACT process, nor the policy underlying BACT to establish the most stringent limit achievable with the lowest emitting control option that meets the project purpose,” said the appeal.
  • Whether the region clearly erred by refusing to consider a solar thermal hybrid addition to the proposed natural gas combined cycle power plant, despite being a demonstrated method to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without changing the fundamental business purpose of producing electricity through a combined cycle plant. “The Region incorrectly determined that including solar thermal supplemental heat to a combined cycle plant would be ‘redefining the source,’” said the appeal.

Harlingen EDC, a local economic development group, had announced on May 2 that construction was expected to begin in early 2014 on this plant, to be located in the Harlingen Industrial Park, located along the U.S.-Mexico border near the Gulf of Mexico. At its peak, the $650m project will have more than six hundred workers on site, with most of the work force to be recruited locally, the announcement said. The plant is being developed by Coronado Power Ventures LLC and Bechtel.

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.