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Utility companies protest EPA rule

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

Two Springfield-based providers of electricity are protesting a recent Environmental Protection Agency rule. City Utilities and Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. are filing administrative petitions for reconsideration of the EPA's Sept. 24 Ozone Transport Rule, which deals with limiting nitrogen oxide, or NOx, emissions from businesses in general and coal-fired power plants in particular.

David Fraley, director of environmental compliance for City Utilities, announced at the Dec. 17 Board of Public Utilities meeting that CU would file a petition for reconsideration, which was due Dec. 27.

David Burton, public relations specialist with Associated Electric Cooperative Inc., said the cooperative had already filed its petition. Both companies are also involved in an appeal in Washington, D.C., circuit court. Since several utilities have filed similar cases, the D.C. circuit cases have been consolidated into one master case, Fraley said.

The utility companies are protesting the fact that Missouri, and western Missouri in particular, are subject to the EPA rule. Missouri is the only state west of the Mississippi River to be included in the rule; only two of Missouri's border states, Illinois and Tennessee, are included.

The EPA ruling on nitrogen oxide emissions was finalized Sept. 24 and entered into the Federal Register in October, Fraley said. The rule was the result of a modeling study conducted to determine what effect emissions from the Midwest had on air pollution in the Northeast.

The study determined that several states in the Ohio River Valley contributed to the Northeast's air pollution, and the EPA's rule asks that those states and Missouri reduce their nitrogen oxide emissions in order to reduce pollution in the Northeast.

During the modeling process, Fraley said, Missouri was determined to be a noncontributing state, and western Missouri in particular was singled out as not contributing, but when the rule was promulgated, the state was included.

Utility companies were a major target of the rule because coal-fired power plants, such as those CU runs, contribute significantly to the amount of nitrogen oxides in the air. NOx is a precursor to ground-level ozone, or smog, Fraley said. There are several means to control nitrogen oxide emissions, some of which are already in place at City Utilities' power plants.

"We now have technology in place to remove 45 percent of the NOx at our James River and Southwest Power Plants and we've taken those measures in order to comply with the Clean Air Act of 1990. With this new rule, we'll have to remove even more of the NOx from the emissions, so we will have to use selective catalytic reduction, to remove up to 85 percent of the NOx," Fraley said.

The rule includes a total of 22 states, and each of those states will have a limit, or allowance, of NOx they can produce during the NOx season, the summer months when production of the emissions is higher, Fraley said.

As the rule now stands, each state has until September 1999 to submit its plans for how to distribute its allowed emissions. By May 2003, the utilities are to be in compliance. The utility companies in western Missouri are hoping that the actions they have taken against the rule will either extend the deadline or get the rule thrown out, Fraley said.

The cost to place the necessary controls on the power plant equipment will mean millions of dollars for some utilities, Fraley said, and he is among many who say the EPA's research does not support Missouri's being included in the rule.

"Those of us in western Missouri are not contributing at a level that indicates we should be included in this rule. We have questioned the science behind this. There have been several models, and we still don't think the science supports western Missouri being included," he said.

In addition to the expense they will incur as a result of the rule, Fraley said the utility companies fear the rule may harm economic development in the state, especially because most of Missouri's border states are not included in the rule.

"If someone wants to locate here and sees that we have to comply with this rule, but just a few miles away in Arkansas they don't, where are they going to go?" Fraley said.

The rule will also affect where the utility companies locate their coal-fired plants in the future, or whether they use coal at all, Burton said. All of AECI's recent projects are natural-gas-fired generation plants, Burton said. Fraley added that if City Utilities needs more generation capacity, it may have to look at placing plants outside the state.

CU will have to spend about $30 million to apply the selective catalytic reduction technology to its power plants if the rule stands. Associated Electric has estimated its costs to meet the rule's requirements at $175 million to $200 million, Burton said. Fraley said the cost of the selective catalytic reducers has continued to rise since the rule was promulgated.

Coal-fired power plants are quickly becoming less common, Burton said. Many companies converted their gas-fired plants to coal during the late 1970s, and many are now switching back, Burton said.

"It's just getting too difficult to permit the coal-fired plants. We're looking at using gas in every one of our new sites," Burton said.

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