EPA gives a pass under SO2 NAAQS to solid fuel-fired Southport plant in North Carolina

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Feb. 16 sent a letter to the state of North Carolina saying that most of Brunswick County is in attainment for the SO2 NAAQS, though it’s reserving judgment on one part of the county due to a shut industrial facility that has a theoretical chance to be restarted.

Under section 107(d) of the Clean Air Act (CAA), EPA must designate areas as either “unclassifiable,” “attainment,” or “nonattainment” for the 2010 one-hour sulfur dioxide (SO2) primary national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS). The CAA defines a nonattainment area as one that does not meet the NAAQS or that contributes to a violation in a nearby area. An attainment area is defined as any area other than a nonattainment area that meets the NAAQS. Unclassifiable areas are defined as those that cannot be classified on the basis of available information as meeting or not meeting the NAAQS.

North Carolina submitted updated recommendations to EPA in September 2015, ahead of a July 2, 2016, deadline for the EPA to designate certain areas. This deadline, established by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California as the result of an environmental group lawsuit, is the first of three deadlines established by the court for the EPA to complete area designations for the 2010 SO2 NAAQS. EPA on Feb. 16 sent a letter to the state with its preliminary decision on the one area in the state covered by the July 2 deadline.

The Brunswick County area contains a stationary source that according to the EPA’s Air Markets Database emitted in 2012 either more than 16,000 tons of SO2 or more than 2,600 tons of SO2 and had an annual average emission rate of at least 0.45 lbs SO2/MMBtu. As of March 2, 2015, this stationary source had not met the specific requirements for being “announced for retirement,” which would exempt it from consideration.

In 2012, the Capital Power Incorporated (CPI) USA North Carolina LLC–Southport Plant emitted 2,923 tons of SO2 and had an average emissions rate of 0.74 lbs SO2/MMBtu. CPI operates two electric generating units (EGUs) that are permitted to combust a variety of solid fuels, including coal, woody biomass and tire-derived fuel. The two EGUs are each comprised of three boilers, operating at 223 MMBtu/hr.

In its submission, North Carolina recommended that the area surrounding the CPI Southport facility, specifically the entirety of Brunswick and New Hanover counties, be designated as attainment based on an assessment and characterization of air quality from the facility and other nearby sources which may have a potential impact in the area of analysis where maximum concentrations of SO2 are expected. The assessment and characterization was originally conducted by Trinity Consultants and prepared for CPI Southport. North Carolina then reviewed and submitted the information to the EPA.

“After careful review of the state’s assessment, supporting documentation, and all available data, the EPA agrees that most of Brunswick County is attaining the standard, and intends to designate as unclassifiable/attainment all the townships within the county except for the Northwest township which captures the DAK Americas, LLC facility,” said EPA. “While North Carolina has indicated that DAK Americas, LLC is shutdown as of September 2013, the facility still has an active operating permit and has a total facility-wide potential to emit of 10,324 tpy for SO2 on a rolling 12-month basis. Before shutdown, the facility was emitting approximately 1,442 tpy of actual SO2 emissions. In fact, the operating permit was renewed on November 5, 2013, and does not expire until October 31, 2018.

“The EPA is not yet issuing an intended designation for New Hanover County or the Northwest Township (i.e., the location of DAK Americas, LLC) at this time. Instead, the Agency will designate the aforementioned areas and all other undesignated areas of North Carolina by either December 31, 2017, or December 31, 2020, consistent with the deadlines in the final consent decree.”

The CPI Southport facility is located on the coast in southeastern North Carolina in the southeastern portion of Brunswick County. The state identified two additional large SO2 emission emissions sources: DAK Americas in Brunswick County and Duke Energy’s L.V. Sutton coal plant in New Hanover County but did not model these sources because according to the North Carolina both sources have shut down operations thereby indicating a zero level for potential to emit (PTE).

EPA said that according to press releases and information obtained from the state, DAK Americas was shut in September 2013, ceasing all combustion operations and demolishing its units. However, the operating permit has not been rescinded. Therefore, the shutdown is not considered permanent and enforceable for purposes of designations because the source still has a potential to emit.

L.V. Sutton in New Hanover County (east of Brunswick) is located approximately 38 kilometers from CPI Southport and less than 1 kilometer from the Brunswick County border. Its three coal-fired units were retired in November 2013 as a result of the operation of a new, gas-fired combined-cycle unit at the site. The source reported 32 tons of actual SO2 emissions in 2014.

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.