La Paloma Energy Center scores legal victory for its Texas power project

The U.S. Environmental Appeals Board on March 14 rejected a Sierra Club petition for a review of an air permit issued to La Paloma Energy Center LLC for a gas-fired power project in Texas.

The Sierra Club had petitioned the board to review a greenhouse gas (GHG) prevention of significant deterioration (PSD) permit that Region 6 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued in November 2013 to La Paloma Energy Center, LLC (LPEC). The permit authorizes LPEC to construct and operate a 637-MW to 735-MW natural gas-fired power plant in Harlingen, Texas.

The project is being developed by Coronado Power Ventures LLC and Bechtel.

The Sierra Club challenged the permit’s emission limits for greenhouse gases on two grounds, claiming that the Region clearly erred or abused its discretion:

  • by failing to base the permitted GHG emission limits for the combined cycle natural gas-fired combustion turbines that will be used at this facility on the energy efficiency of the most efficient of the three turbine models that LPEC identified for potential use at this facility; and
  • by declining to require LPEC to consider adding a solar thermal energy component to the proposed facility in order to further reduce GHG emissions because the Region incorrectly concluded that solar technology would “redefine the source.”

“Sierra Club has failed to demonstrate that the Region clearly erred or abused its discretion in establishing the GHG permit limits for the combustion turbines at the proposed LPEC facility,” said the March 14 decision. “The Board finds no support in EPA’s [best available control technology] BACT guidance for Sierra Club’s position that the three specific turbine models proposed by LPEC must be identified as separate control technologies throughout the Region’s five-step analysis. The Region had a rational basis for its determinations that all three of the permitted turbine models are comparably efficient on a performance basis, that the assigned BACT limits are substantially equivalent except for marginal differences attributable to capacity, and that the GHG emission limits for all three turbine models represent BACT for highly efficient combined cycle combustion turbines.”

The club added on the second point of appeal: “Sierra Club has failed to demonstrate that the Region abused its discretion in concluding that adding solar technology to this facility would ‘redefine the source.’ Under the circumstances of this case, the business purposes and site-specific constraints described in the administrative record support the Region’s conclusion that the addition of supplemental solar power to this facility would constitute redesign of the source.”

In its application, LPEC said the proposed facility would consist of two natural gas-fired combined cycle combustion turbines, each exhausting to a fired heat recovery steam generator. LPEC explained that, while “final selection of the combustion turbine model would not be made until after the permit was issued,” it was considering three models, each producing different maximum baseload power: the General Electric 7FA (183 MW), the Siemens SGT6-5000F(4) (205 MW) and the Siemens SGT6-5000F(5) (232 MW). Combined with the steam turbine’s output capacity of about 271 MW, the combustion turbines would produce a total generating capacity at this facility of 637, 681, or 735 MW, depending upon which combustion turbine model is finally selected.

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.