Just because one operates a sustainable or renewable energy facility doesn't mean that environmental rules may be ignored. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced a $145,000 settlement with Thermal Energy Development Partnership, a biomass electric power plant in Tracy, CA, for violating Clean Air Act requirements to properly operate and maintain air emission monitoring equipment.
EPA found that Thermal Energy failed to monitor sulfur dioxide for 30 months, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide for 27 months, and opacity for 9 months. The permits issued to the facility require that these systems be properly maintained and operated. EPA did say, however, that there were no known emission violations.
“EPA will continue to rigorously enforce against facilities located in the San Joaquin Valley, a geographic focus for our regional Strategic Plan. The message is simple: facilities must comply with the requirements to monitor their pollutants,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “With some of the poorest air quality in the nation, the Valley cannot afford to risk any further deterioration.”
The monitoring conditions were required by federal New Source Performance Standards for steam generators built after June 19, 1984, that have a heat input greater than 100 million BTU per hour.
EPA noted the serious health problems that can occur from the types of air pollutants involved. Particulates can aggravate asthma and cause premature death in people with heart and lung disease. Sulfur dioxide can also have serious impacts on breathing, respiratory illness, pulmonary function, and cardiovascular disease. These impacts are of particular concern in the San Joaquin Valley, which has some of the highest childhood asthma rates in California.
According to the California Biomass Energy Alliance website, Thermal Energy's facility is a 21 MW biomass plant equipped with a boiler and a steam turbine. The electricity generated is sold to Pacific Gas & Electric under a long-term contract.
Emissions are controlled by Selective non-catalytic reduction for NOx, quick lime injection for SOx, and electrostatic precipitation for particulates.
The website goes on to say that:
- The Tracy plant produces renewable energy sufficient to power 20,000 homes by using sustainable and renewable wood wastes that wood otherwise have been disposed in landfills or burned without energy recovery.
- In emission terms, almost 3 million pounds per year of agricultural open-burning wastes have been offset by being burned in the facility instead.
- The wood wastes used remove an estimated 230,000 tons per year of greenhouse gases.
- The plant helps at least 24 Central California cities and 12 counties achieve their mandate to divert 50% of their solid wastes from landfills.