On August 5, 2010, the U.S. EPA sued DTE Energy, seeking to halt an EXPANSION to a coal-fired electric plant that the government says will worsen air pollution in Michigan. The lawsuit alleges DTE made major modifications in March 2010 to Unit 2 at its Monroe Power Plant without first obtaining necessary approvals. The $30 million overhaul was made without installing, as required under the New Source Review (NSR) requirements of the Clean Air Act, the best available technology to minimize emissions of sulfur and nitrogen oxides — pollutants that harm human health by contributing to heart attacks, breathing problems, and other health, the suit alleges. The lawsuit alleges the Monroe plant is already the largest individual source of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions in the state and “this modification resulted in significant net emission increases.”
The government said DTE conducted a $65-million overhaul of Monroe Unit 2, one of four generators at the facility, earlier this year without obtaining the necessary pollution permits or installing the best pollution controls. As a result, large amounts of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide will be released into the air, the agency said in the suit. It asked U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman to enjoin DTE from operating Unit 2 until it complies with the Clean Air Act and fine the firm up to $37,500 per day for violations.
According to Michigan Messenger: “The EPA suit charges that in March of this year DTE began a months-long project to refurbish the boilers in use at the plant since the 70s. The EPA says that the boiler replacements amount to a major overhaul that cost about $65 million and was “unpredicted” in the life of the plant.”
Part of the alleged problem with the Monroe Plant expansion stems from the same thing I blogged about back in April, 08. I complained that Michigan had lax CO2 laws. Back then Michigan would still issue a permit to a utility company to expand or build a new coal fired plant if it met requirements to capture a percentage of pollutants in its existing plant. My complaint was that pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, and CO2 were all lumped together as pollutants. To get around the permitting process all a coal plant needed to do was lower their sulfur and NOX emissions. My words:”Why the rush to put scrubbers on coal plants now if not to apply for permits, and before the rules change?” Considering the Monroe plant was completed in 1974 and scrubber technology was around since the 70′s one has to wonder. It appears the installation of the scrubbers at such a late date on an old plant was an attempt to grandfather the legal right to keep emitting CO2 before new pollutions controls for coalburners went into effect in 2009.
The Sierra Club came to the same conclusion, “Weak regulations and expected federal limits on the emission of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide have led to a rush to get coal plants approved in Michigan now, even though the state won’t need any additional electric generating capacity for many years.”
The grandfather rights to pollute may not be ironclad. New rules apply and first off is a problem with retrofitting older plants. Based on an analysis of EPA data, the study finds:
The nation’s power plants are dirty as well as old — and that those two characteristics tend to go hand in hand. Two-thirds of the nation’s fossil-fuel-generated electricity comes from plants built before 1980. At the same time, those older facilities produced 73% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. The report found that for each year older a coal generator is on average, it created 0.001 more tons of CO2 for each Megawatt-hour of electricity it produced in 2007.
Another problem is proving need for more electricity before expanding or building a new coal burner. The state’s Dept. of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) is allowed to determine this thanks to our House of Reps. The MI Senate proposed a bill to block that right by the DNRE. The permit for denial of the Bay City project is an example that there is no need for more electricity in MI. The project is now on hold due to lack of electricity need. DTE’s own research revealed no increase in electricity supply through 2012. But other studies put it at a much later date considering loss of population in Michigan. A report by a state agency says there will be no new demand for electricity in Michigan until 2022.
There is also the stated problem of not using the best available technology (BACT) to minimize emissions of sulfur and nitrogen dioxide as part of the requirements of the Clean Air Act. DTE claims the scrubbers are top notch, however, they evidently do not fall within the standards set by the top 12% of coalburners in its class. An article on Financial Times/ft.com:
The legal instrument for this is the Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) provisions of the CAA. Essentially, they will require coal utilities to reduce their emissions of hazardous pollutants, as defined by the EPA, to the levels achieved by the best 12 per cent of plants in their class. Once an industry rule comes down, each “source”, or plant, has three years, with one year of allowed extensions, to bring their emission levels down to the standard.
The Michigan Messenger reported: “Monroe’s unit 2 emitted 27,320 tons of sulfur and 8,205 tons of nitrogen oxide just last year and predicts that by 2013, unit 2 will emit 33,816 tons of SO2 and 14,494 tons of NOX.”
Monroe Power Plant began operating two flue gas desulfurization systems, the first in June and the second in November 2009. DTE Energy said the scrubbers reduce Unit 3′s sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions by 97 percent and mercury emissions by 80 to 90 percent. Unit 4 had similar reductions when the first FGD began operating. Selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology was also installed on three of the plant’s generating units, reportedly reducing nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 90 percent. Two more scrubbers and a fourth SCR will be installed at the plant. Allowed to escape–3% of sulfur, 10% nitrogen dioxide, and 10-20% mercury.
It’s a math ratio problem. Increased output by the new expansion results in an increased amount of pollution that is allowed to escape. So 23-33% worth of pollutants overall will be escaping indefinately if the grandfather clause stands. The biggest caveat is that the CO2 is not scrubbed at all. It is just flying freely at an increased rate. This explains why the EXPANSION will worsen air pollution in Michigan.
A Grist article explains the grandfathering, the math ratio, etc., quite well:
The Michigan Messenger article continued:
S02 and NOX can combine with other elements in the air to form particulate matter known as PM 2.5. These pollutants cause harm to human health and the environment once emitted into the air, including premature death, heart attacks and lung problems.
EPA has long warned that DTE was operating its coal plants without required pollution control equipment.
In a July 24, 2009 Notice of Violation, EPA told DTE that it was failing to meet Clean Air Act regulations at its Monroe plant, and at plants in St. Clair, River Rouge, Belle River and Trenton Channel.
‘Unless restrained by an order of this Court,’ EPA charged in its complaint against DTE, ‘these and similar violations of the Act will continue.’
Finally, Michigan’s DNRE also has the right to determine if there are viable alternative sources to the electricity generated by the coal plant.
These criteria have been used to deny permits to both the Holland and Rogers City proposed coal burners. DTE will have to defend its grandfathering. DTE asserted it didn’t need permits. According to detnews.com, DTE did not seek necessary approvals and “mailed a notification letter to the state of Michigan the day before starting the project.”
DTE also asserts the Monroe Plant is among the cleanest when there are plenty of studies that place it in the top 20 dirty plants in the country like sciencedaily.com. Our air quality in Monroe doesn’t reflect a clean plant either especially when it had no scrubbers for close to 40 years. If the plant is indeed among the dirtiest and the scrubbers aren’t up to par, it may have to revamp the plant.
DTE cautions that the down time will cost customers. I complained in Feb. 08 about passing costs along—”I  predicted that the utility companies would continue too long on their same course and then whine about the cost to reverse things and comply with new clean air policy. How soon before we hear the sob stories? So predictable. When companies have a big lobby, they throw all foresight to the wind. They don’t need to stay on the ball. They pay to change the play instead. And the taxpayer bears the brunt.”
Customers should not bear the brunt. DTE’s union members authorized a strike just last year: “The union called for the strike authorization citing ‘out of control executive pay, profits at the expense of the consumers and bad faith bargaining.’” This sounds like the bulk of wealthy corporations with big profits that fail to create jobs but look to cut the little guy even more. Crainsdetroit.com reported:
Jim Harrison, Local 223 president, told union members DTE is trying to take its workers retirement while the company posts financial gains.
DTE is attempting to raise health care costs to union members, cut or eliminate health care coverage to retirees, and strip employment security for Local 223 workers, the union said.
‘DTE is posting huge profits. It only had to share its success with its union workers,’ Harrison said in a statement.
Some sort of settlement was reached between workers and DTE.
Michigan imports most of its coal at a high price. A study by Union of Concerned Scientists ranked states relative to importing coal and compared with other states, Michigan:
Imported the 5th most in net weight: 36 million tons
Spent the 7th most on net imports: $1.36 billion that went outside of the state
Is the 9th most dependent on net imports as a share of total power use:
And building or even expanding a plant that is unnecessary because electricity demand has dropped in MI ends up costing us plenty for nothing both moneywise and to our health.