Will Proposed Rule Change Disadvantage Clean Plants?

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An online story published Wednesday, Sept. 27, by Midwest Energy News claims that new proposed Illinois Environmental Protection Agency rules may lead to the closure of clean power plants like Coffeen, but Dynegy officials claim those speculations are premature.

"Any speculation about a specific plant is just that–speculation," Dynegy vice president of regulatory affairs Dean Ellis told The Journal-News via phone interview from his office in Houston on Friday.  "Our goal is to operate our cleanest, most efficient plants."

Under the Multi-Pollutant Standard (MPS) rules enacted in 2006, Dynegy plants have to meet a certain rate of average sulfur dioxide emissions per amount of energy produced, meaning that running power plants like Coffeen–lauded as perhaps the cleanest coal-fired plant in the world–help balance the emissions of other plants.

Ellis said that since Dynegy has acquired power plants from various previous owners, those percentages are different for different groups of producers. The proposed rule change would remove the "rate based" emissions restrictions and instead place all eight Dynegy plants in Illinois under one total emissions "hard cap."

Environmentalists quoted in the Midwest Energy News story believe that may be bad news for the Coffeen Power Plant.

"Coffeen has a big very effective scrubber that makes it the cleanest plant in their operations and probably one of the cleanest in the country, but it has all this extra cost," Midwest Energy News quoted from Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health programs at the Respiratory Health Association.  "Right now because of the way the rule is set up, every time they run a dirty plant to make money, they have to run the clean plant to make sure the rate evens out.  If the rule were changed to allow the cap, they could just ditch Coffeen."

Dynegy, as well as Coffeen Power Plant manager Randy O'Keefe, maintain the company has no plans to close plants, and the Midwest Energy News story points out that their sources are speculating "based on larger trends in the power industry."

"Our people produce safe, economic, clean power at a competitive cost," O'Keefe said.  "Coffeen is 'business as usual' right now."

Emissions data from the EPA for 2016 quoted in the story said Coffeen–with its scrubbers–emitted only 33 tons of sulfur dioxide in 2016.  Plants without scrubbers, such as Baldwin, Hennepin, Edwards, Joppa and Newton, emitted between 4,020 and 7,743 tons last year.

Ellis said the proposed rule change has yet to be filed with the Illinois Pollution Control Board.  Their rule-making process will allow ample opportunity for public comment.

"Dynegy has reduced sulfur dioxide emissions by over 90 percent since 1998," Ellis said.  "This rule change is consistent with our mission."

Coffeen produces 991 megawatts, 366 from Unit 1 and 625 from Unit 2, using 3.3 million tons of coal from the Powder River Basin. Dynegy took over operation of the plant in early 2014 after Ameren had invested over $900 million in upgrades over the previous decade.

Those upgrades included the installation of a new High Pressure/Intermediate Pressure (HP/IP) steam turbine to generate more electricity while burning the same amount of coal,  electrostatic precipitator upgrades on Unit 1 and a new precipitator on Unit 2 to capture particulates, and "selective catalytic reduction systems" on both units designed to significantly reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent.

In 2009 and 2010, "scrubbers" were built to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by more than 90 percent, and in 2011 all 14 original cyclones in the Unit 2 boiler were replaced.

Midwest Energy News is published by Fresh Energy, a non-partisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for clean energy policy.

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