Power Engineering

Russell City Energy Center: Standard for GHG Emissions?

By Brian Wheeler, Associate Editor

Situated on a 19-acre site in the Industrial Corridor of Hayward, Calif., is the planned location of the 600 MW Russell City Energy Center. Through the Russell City Energy Co. LLC partnership, Calpine Corp. and an affiliate of GE Energy Financial Services (a unit of GE) own 65 percent and 35 percent of the project, respectively. The planned combined-cycle natural gas-fired facility is unique because it is the first plant in the United States with a federal air permit limiting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

“There aren’t any regulatory requirements to have GHG limits at this point,” said Brian Bateman, director of engineering for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. “These were actually limits accepted on a voluntary basis.”

The federal Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) program requires facilities to use Best Available Control Technology (BACT) to limit emissions of all regulated pollutants. To meet the federal standard for greenhouse gas emissions, the facility has been designed with a thermal efficiency rating of 56.4 percent, which translates to a heat rate of 6,852 Btu/kWh. Calpine expects the Russell City Energy Center to keep the nominal heat rate under 7,000 Btu/kWh. When doing so, the plant can achieve emissions of approximately 800 pounds of carbon-dioxide equivalents (CO2e) per megawatthour.

“Efficiency and GHG emissions go hand-in-hand,” said Joe Ronan, senior vice president of government and regulatory affairs for Calpine. “Forty percent more efficiency means we are burning 40 percent less fuel and emitting 40 percent less carbon.”

While the Russell City Energy Center has voluntarily committed to limiting its GHG emissions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is moving ahead with plans to make GHG emissions regulated pollutants under the PSD program as of Jan. 2, 2011. At that point, companies wishing to construct or modify large sources, such as power plants, will be required to address GHG emissions in the PSD permitting process. EPA points to Calpine as a generator taking a proactive approach to addressing its upcoming requirements. If other companies seek to voluntarily address GHGs, EPA will work with that company, too.

“Air pollution agencies around the country will be involved in working on this throughout the year to figure out appropriate GHG limits for these new permits,” said Bateman. “And Russell City will be reviewed in terms of potential permits down the line.”

Not every plant may have to reach the same limits as Russell City, but Bateman thinks the plant will be used to demonstrate these limits are achievable.

“This plant will be very energy efficient,” he said.

Construction at the Russell City Energy Center has yet to begin, but Ronan said some of the major equipment has been purchased or is on order. The proposed project would consist of two Siemens F-class combustion turbine generators, two multi-pressure supplementary-fired heat recovery steam generators, a single three-pressure, reheat condensing steam turbine-generator and a hybrid wet/dry plume-abated mechanical draft cooling tower.

The plant would be adjacent to the City of Hayward wastewater treatment facility and would use 100 percent reclaimed water from the treatment facility for cooling. In doing that, the plant can prevent up to four million gallons of wastewater per day from being discharged into San Francisco Bay. Ronan said many cities and counties in California are under EPA scrutiny for water discharge. Using wastewater at the Russell City plant not only helps the Bay’s environmental quality but also benefits the City of Hayward.

“Forty to 50 years ago once-through cooling made sense because the large utility-owned power plants were located near the Pacific Ocean,” he said. “But today you would not be able to obtain a permit.”

The Russell City Energy Center was issued its final air permit on March 22. While a number of opponents appealed the permit, EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board recently held oral arguments. A decision from the appeals board was still pending at press time.

“We are optimistic that the appeal will be denied and we can move forward to break ground,” said Ronan.

If the appeal is denied and the Russell City Energy Center’s permitting is completed, Calpine hopes to break ground this fall on the state-of-the-art facility. The facility will likely serve as an important reference point for future BACT determinations for similar facilities.

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