End of lignite?

Keep a close eye on latest set of EPA ‘downwind’ regulations

A ll through the Alcoa years Rockdale area residents got used to repeated warnings that this or that environmental regulation would shut down the plant.

None ever seemed to go anywhere. And with Luminant’s brand new, latest-pollution technology, Sandow 5 going on line almost two years ago—and a state of the art SCR scrubber installed at Sandow 4—probably many area residents thought a new era had begun.

Wrong. The recent addition of Texas to the EPA’s Cross- State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) could result in serious, even dire, consequences for the Sandow Power Plant.

Analysts, and elected Texas officials of both parties, believe CSAPR could eliminate the use of lignite coal as a fuel source for power plants. That, of course, would have serious consequences for Sandow, which uses lignite from Luminant’s Three Oaks Mine.

Lignite has a higher sulfur content than most other coals. CSAPR rules target emissions for ozone and particulate matter crossing state lines. EPA added Texas to the list of states falling under the new rule, citing sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions contributing to particulate matter pollution in St. Louis.

Both St. Louis, and the state of Texas, incidentally, officially satisfy the federal air-particulate matter standard.

Luminant is sifting through the 1,300-page rule to determine how to meet the new regulations. One way would be to stop using lignite and ship in other coals.

Another would be to curtail, or cease, some production. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) has told the EPA the new rule could eliminate the jobs of 1,500 IBEW members at six Texas power plants.

It appears the Luminant plants most at risk are Martin Lake, Monticello and Big Brown in east Texas.

One thing Sandow has going for it is its newness. You’d think it would be a prime candidate to remain generating with shipped-in coal if Texas lignite goes down.

Unit 4? It dates from the 1970s. The SCR anti-pollution equipment targets nitrogen oxide (NOX), not SO2.

Some of the new regulations go into effect Jan. 1, 2012. Luminant has already said the EPA’s time frame for implementing the changes is “unrealistic.”

Luminant has some monumental decisions to make and some of those will affect Rockdale.—M.B.

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2011-07-21 digital edition

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