NGS rep: EPA rule no surprise

By Krista Allen
Special to the Times

PAGE, Ariz., February 7, 2013

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T he Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to have the Navajo Generating Station reduce its nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent by 2018 came as no surprise to the plant's managers, an NGS spokesman told a mostly local crowd gathered at a community forum here last Thursday.

"We knew that at bare minimum, we would have to do this in the BART (best available retrofit technology) ruling," NGS environmental director Paul Ostapuk said. "We saw it coming and we were going to have to make some improvements. It was the right thing to do for the environment."

A community forum hosted by Salt River Project, co-owner and operator of NGS, took place Thursday night at the PERA Club where plant manager Robert Talbot and other SRP officials provided an overview of the EPA proposal and what to expect in the upcoming EPA public comment process. Talbot assured the attenders that SRP is committed to keeping the plant open in spite of obstacles like the new rule.

"Every year (Salt River Project) sets a number of corporate objectives, and for the past two years, the number one objective on the list is to complete the necessary steps to assure continuation of the Navajo Generating Station," Talbot said. "It's very high on SRP's radar screen-we're putting a lot of resources to try and make that happen."

On Jan. 18, the EPA proposed air pollution limits for the 2,250-megawatt coal-fired power plant of 0.055-pound/million metric British thermal unit (mmBtu), an 80 percent reduction of its current overall NOx emission rate, by 2018.

Under one of several proposed alternatives, the NGS could buy more time, but only if it could come up with a way to make its smokestacks even cleaner than the new rules require.

The EPA's suggested emission limit can be attained by installing state-of-the-art Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) technology by 2018 in conjunction with the low-NOx burners that the six co-owners voluntarily installed between 2009 and 2011, Ostapuk said.

"And the new SCR technology would drive that number down another 50 percent or so," Ostapuk continued, explaining that the SCR works roughly like a catalytic converter on a car. "This number here is low or even lower than some of the (newer power plants).

"That has created some uncertainty for us: If we really can get it down that low," Ostapuk added. "Because this will be a new limit, we have to stay in compliance with that EPA limit 100 percent of the time."

Since pollutants from the power plant contribute to visibility impairment in nearby 11 national parks and wilderness areas including the Grand Canyon, the NGS has long been in the EPA's sights.

However, the agency states in its proposed rule it understands the plant's importance to the state's economy, supplying 500 jobs in a depressed area and supplying power to the massive Central Arizona Project.

According to a press release issued Jan. 18 by the Navajo Nation Washington Office, President Ben Shelly said the BART rule is a disappointment.

"(This) is not what I advocated for in our communications with the EPA," Shelly said.

It's a very complex rule, said SRP manager for environmental policy and innovation Grant Smedley.

"There's a lot in it and we've a number of teams within SRP that are looking at and analyzing different aspects of the rule, trying to determine implications," Smedley said.

The main problem with the rule is that it couldn't possibly come at a worse time.

For one thing, its lease from the Navajo Nation expires Dec. 23, 2019.

A lease extension and renewals of the rights-of-way for the plant, railroad, transmission and water lines are needed before the co-owners can commit to investing an estimated $1.1 billion in additional emissions control equipment to comply with the rule.

"It needs to be extended," Smedley said. "The authorization to extend the lease beyond 2019 would have to be given by the secretary of the interior."

In order to do that, the federal government would have to assess a number of environmental impact statements.

"It's going to be a complex process," Smedley said.

In addition, the plant's ownership is up in the air.

NGS is co-owned by six entities, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power with a 21.2 percent share.

While LADWP is contractually devoted to NGS until Dec. 31, it has set a goal to exit the project by 2015 - which would be right in the middle of the retrofit.

"The owners really need as much time and flexibility as possible to get through and resolve some of those uncertainties facing the plant," Smedley said.

Smedley says the goals of the EPA rule are to reach "natural background visibility conditions" by the year 2064.

So what are NOx emissions and how do they contribute to regional haze?

NOx is a byproduct of combustion, "just as your vehicle as you're driving down the (road)," Smedley said. "When NOx combines with other things in the atmosphere, it forms particles called, nitrate particles that impair the visibility that prevents you to see. That's what contributes to regional haze."

Nitrate particles are fairly small contributors to overall regional haze, said Smedley, and power plant emissions only represent a subset of the nitrates in the atmosphere.

"(Power plants) of certain age are triggered for the EPA to look at them, depending on location and how close (to a national park they are)," Ostapuk said. "It's something that's required nationally. Most of the national parks are out West, so it has the greatest impact in our region."

While the SCR technology would reduce NOx, it could create a different type of particle called sulfur trioxide (SO3), along with high concentrations of acid and toxic chemicals such as carbon tetrachloride or silicon tetrachloride.

Ostapuk says filtration called "baghouses" will be used to capture the new particles.

At the end of the night, several members of the forum including Sarah Dale from LeChee, Ariz. stood up to comment.

"(NGS) is a blessing," Dale said. "This is our life here. The power plant is very educational. It teaches our Navajo people how to become skilled workers."

The EPA is providing a 90-day comment period and will host several hearings near the area in the spring.

The public forum brought together approximately 80 members of the community.

NGS employs 526 workers, 450 of whom are Diné.


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