O&M, Retrofits & Upgrades

Updates to the Clean Air Act Section 608 requirements for refrigeration and air conditioning equipment: Why power plants should care?

Among power generation air permitting specialists, the order of priority typically looks something like this:

1.       New Source Review (NSR)/Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) requirements

2.       Meeting nitrogen oxide emission limits

3.       Greenhouse Gas (GHG) permitting and reporting

4.       Everything else

5.       40 CFR Part 82/Clean Air Action 608 Refrigerant Requirements

If the refrigerant regulations are so far down the priority “totem pole,” why should power plants care? Most power plants have one or more refrigerant devices that are subject to substantive requirements. Additionally, most Title V air permits have a short paragraph identifying 40 CFR Part 82 as an applicable requirement and require the Responsible Official to certify that the Facility is in compliance with all applicable requirements. Finally, before you or the Responsible Official signs that annual certification statement, are you sure the Plant is in compliance with 40 CFR Part 82 requirements in light of the November 2016 Revisions?

40 CFR Part 82 Refrigerant Requirements

Up until the 1980s, the hole in the stratospheric ozone layer, which was generally attributed to release of man-made chlorofluorcarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorcarbons (HCFCs), was growing and represented one the most serious threats to the planet. In 1987 the Montreal Protocol was issued to address the worldwide ozone problem by gradually replacing CFCs and HCFCs with substitute refrigerants, such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), that were less harmful to the ozone layer.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) subsequently incorporated the provisions of the Montreal Protocol into the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 (Title VI) and codified the regulations as 40 CFR Part 82. 40 CFR Part 82, called “Protection of Stratospheric Ozone” required chemical manufacturers of CFCs and HCFCs (collectively called Ozone Depleting Compounds (ODCs)) to gradually phase out production of ODCs in 1990. The regulation also impacted companies/organizations that use refrigerants in equipment such as air conditioners, process chillers, and freezers.

The most substantive requirements of the regulation (prior to 2016) to are summarized below:

·         Persons working on refrigeration units with ODCs must be certified and use certified refrigerant recovery equipment.

·         Owners of refrigeration units containing greater than 50 pounds of ODCs must calculate leak rates and repair leaks exceeding these allowable leak rates in a timely manner

·         Records must be kept by the Owner (even if all of the work is done by an outside contractor) of the units, leak rates, and repair verification reports.

The substantive requirements (leak rate and repair requirements) did not apply to substitute refrigerants such as HFCs.

November 2016 Revisions

The November 2016 revision affected the following:

·         Reduced the allowable leak rates to the following:

§  Industrial Process Refrigeration from 35 percemt to 30 percent

§  Commercial Refrigeration from 35 percent to 20 percent

§  Comfort Cooling from 15 percent to 10 percent

·         The leak rate must be calculated every time refrigerant is added to a unit containing greater than 50 lbs of refrigerant (this was implied but not explicitly stated in the old regulation)

·         Periodic leak inspections required for some units that have experienced leaks.

·         Must submit annual report to EPA for units classified as “Chronically Leaking Appliances”

·         Must keep records associated with the recovery of refrigerant prior to disposal of the unit for certain size units.

It should be noted that the applicability date for these provisions varied; some of them did became effective until 2019.

The most significant revision that drew industry resistance was the provision that the leak rate requirements became applicable to units containing substitute refrigerants effective January 2019. This change was particularly cumbersome (and frustrating) to some companies that had invested significant capital expense over the past 10-20 years to replace CFC and HCFC units with HFC containing units.

If HFCs (substitute refrigerants) were designed to replace HCFCs and CFCs have reduced potential to damage the ozone layer, why did EPA effectively “go after” these substitute refrigerants in the 2016 revision?

One factor is that while substitute refrigerants have limited adverse impact on stratospheric ozone, they are a greenhouse gas (GHG) with a high global warming potential (GWP). A common HFC, 1,1,2,2-tetraflouroethane (commonly referred to as R-134a), has a GWP of 1,300, meaning that one ton of R-134a is equivalent to 1,300 tons of carbon dioxide in terms of global warming impacts.

Some industry groups “cried foul” over the November 2016 revisions based on the fact that the regulations were issued to reduce GHGs under the disguise of the Protection of Stratospheric Ozone regulation. The new EPA administration appeared to be sympathetic to those criticisms. On October 1, 2018, EPA proposed a rule to roll-back the major components of the November 2016 revision. Most significant, the proposal would limit the leak repair provisions to ODCs and not substantively affect HFCs. As with many environmental issues, EPA is now getting pushback from both sides. Obviously, environmental groups are pushing EPA to hold the rule as-is on the basis that is a win-win for the environment (global warming and protection of stratospheric ozone). Some industry groups are crying foul and are being penalized for doing the right thing by making capital investment and replacing CFCs and HCFCs units in order to meet regulations and solve the ozone problem.

Speculating on how the 40 CFR Part 82 regulation will be revised and when it will be finalized is a treacherous task. Until and/if the regulation is revised, Facilities are required meet allowable leak rate, repair, and recordkeeping requirements for all refrigeration units containing greater than 50 lbs or more even those containing substitute refrigerants (in other words meet the November 2016 revisions).

Recommendations:

Environmental professionals cannot help but being frustrated and confused by the recent 40 CFR Part 82 revisions and then EPA’s subsequent proposal to “roll-back” the regulations less than two years later. The best and safest recommendation for environmental professionals is to meet the revised 40 Part 82 regulations, including leak rate and recordkeeping requirements even for substitute refrigerants. Facilities should use the opportunity to verify adequate procedures, such as worker and contractor training, recordkeeping, and inspections are in place to meet regulatory requirements.

About the author: Jerry P. Bauer, P.E, has worked 28 years at Burns & McDonnell specializing in environmental compliance issues. Those include refrigeration management compliance, environmental audit, aerospace painting and hexavalent chromium worker exposure. He also worked as an engineer at Boeing and Texas Oil and Gas. Bauer is an engineering graduate of the University of Kansas and earned his Master’s in mechanical engineering/materials science at Washington University in St. Louis.