A proposed settlement announced by the U.S. Justice Department in October between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and several environmental organizations including Environmental Defense and the Montana Environmental Information Center, does not affect the determination of whether or not integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technology is best available control technology (BACT).
With the agreement, which must undergo public notice and comment before being finalized, the groups would drop their lawsuits in exchange for EPA acknowledging that a December 13, 2005, letter does not constitute final agency action relating to IGCC. The EPA letter stated that IGCC did not have to be considered as BACT at this time. The environmental groups objected, noting that the Clean Air Act calls for proposed new coal plants to use BACT, including available methods to maximize pollution control reductions.
In announcing the agreement, Environmental Defense Senior Attorney Vickie Patton said the proposed settlement “lifts any EPA cloud over the long-standing Clean Air Act imperative to protect human health and the environment by truly minimizing pollution from new coal plants.”
The EPA letter was invoked by Texas officials the day after it was issued. They cited it in declining to consider advanced coal technology as part of the clean air permit for the 800 MW Sandy Creek pulverized coal plant planned by LS Power. The Environmental Defense claimed the plant would release as much as 7.6 million tons of carbon dioxide each year.
Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council (ERCC), a group of power companies working on clean-air policy, said the agreement does not address any controversial environmental policy topics. “What is does is state that the agency says a letter is not a rule.” He said the agency did not disavow the content of that letter as an accurate description of the Clean Air Act and issues addressed by the act related to coal gasification technology.
He said the Clean Air Act requires an analysis of BACT when a permit is sought for new construction of a power plant. But the BACT analysis does not require comparing the proposed construction to “experimental or hypothetical technologies.” Segal said EERC’s view is that coal gasification technology remains a promising option for future development, but analysis of gasification technology is still not a requirement when building state-of-the-art coal-fired power plants. “The EPA Environmental Appeals Board confirmed that principle in September,” said Segal, and “many state agencies also are on record in agreement.”
EERC believes that while IGCC may be a significant contributor to the U.S. energy mix some day, it must now be regarded as experimental for baseload needs using a diversity of coal inputs. Segal notes that experts from the Electric Power Research Institute to the World Bank have noted that reliability improvements are needed before IGCC can truly be considered technology available to address current needs.
“While there has been some promising work done with IGCC, it is not appropriate to consider IGCC as an alternative to supercritical coal technologies,” he said. “The former works in specialized circumstances; the latter is for reliable, baseload applications.”
– Steve Blankinship