Coal-fired Power Plants

Coal Ash poorly regulated for "beneficial use"

posted May 31, 2010, 7:50 AM by Laura Calwell


Coal ash isn't just dumped; it's increasingly being recycled into building materials and other uses. But in states like North Carolina, the failure to adequately regulate one so-called "beneficial use" of the toxic-filled waste is putting communities at risk.

A special Facing South investigation by Sue Sturgis

Westar-Capital Journal January 2010

posted Apr 4, 2010, 5:43 AM by Dr. Cynthia Annett

Westar offers suit settlement

By The Capital-Journal
Created January 25, 2010 at 9:53am
Updated January 25, 2010 at 2:23pm

Westar Energy has submitted a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice of a pending lawsuit over allegations regarding environmental air regulations, it was announced Monday morning.

The settlement, which was filed with federal court for its approval, would require Westar to spend about $500 million to install a selective catalytic reduction system on one of the three Jeffrey Energy Center units, a coal-fired power plant near St. Marys, by the end of 2014. SCR is a technology similar to what a catalytic converter does on a vehicle, which reduces emissions of nitrogen oxide into the air. Another $6 million will be spent on environmental mitigation projects

Westar also agreed to pay a $3 million civil penalty as part of the settlement.

The agreement, filed in U.S. District Court for the state of Kansas, resolves violations of the Clean Air Act's New Source Review requirements, the Department of Justice said.

"In the past few years, Westar has already invested hundreds of millions of dollars to improve the environmental performance of our coal plants," said Bill Moore, Westar president and chief executive officer, in a news release. "Long before the Department of Justice filed this lawsuit, we were already taking actions to keep our air clean."

A second SCR system may need to be installed by 2016 if reduction levels attained by the single system and through the installation of other controls on the other two coal units aren't met.

Officials said the $3 million penalty is far less than the cost of a full trial, while providing green investment into the environment.

"Although Westar has obeyed all environmental laws and regulations, it makes more sense to reach a settlement to invest in a cleaner environment than to spend money on lengthy litigation arguing about these allegations," said Larry Irick, Westar vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary, in the news release. "Investments will really do something for the environment, but protracted litigation won't accomplish any environmental benefit no matter how the case turns out."

Westar said projects scheduled to install new low-nitrogen oxide burners and electrostatic precipitators will go forward as planned. Information provided by Westar said a three-year project completed in 2009 cuts sulfur dioxide emissions at Jeffrey by more than 95 percent.

Stephanie Cole, a representative of the Sierra Club in Kansas, issued a statement indicating the organization was involved in discussions with Westar about the company's air pollution violations. Sierra Club endorsed legal action against Westar to compel the utility to reduce emissions at power plants in the state.

"At this point," she said, "we feel our discussions with Westar have been productive and are moving in the right direction."

She said the Sierra Club would review the agreement between Westar and federal officials and provide input during the required public comment period.

"Ultimately, we expected the involvement of the Department of Justice, as well as our involvement in this case, will result in cleaner air and pollution reductions," Cole said.

Westar-LJWorld Jan 25, 2010

posted Mar 31, 2010, 3:54 AM by Laura Calwell   [ updated Apr 4, 2010, 5:45 AM by Dr. Cynthia Annett ]

LJWorld Green

Westar Energy, federal agencies settle pollution lawsuit; utility agrees to upgrades

Will install pollution controls at Jeffrey Energy Center, pay $3 million penalty

Associated Press

January 25, 2010, 9:42 a.m. Updated January 25, 2010, 1:36 p.m.

Topeka — Kansas’ largest electric company has agreed to upgrade pollution controls at its biggest power plant under a legal settlement announced Monday by the utility and federal officials.

Westar Energy Inc. said it expects to spend at least $200 million on equipment to cut emissions at its coal-fired Jeffrey Energy Center, about 30 miles northwest of Topeka. But federal officials estimated the improvements will cost about $500 million. The bill is likely to be paid by Westar’s 684,000 customers.

The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit in February 2009 against Westar in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan. It came five years after the Environmental Protection Agency notified the utility that Westar had violated federal air pollution regulations.

The settlement also requires Westar to invest $6 million on other environmental projects and to pay a $3 million civil penalty, though the utility acknowledged no wrongdoing. The parties filed the agreement Monday in federal court, and it must be approved by U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson.

The EPA said the settlement will require Jeffrey, in St. Marys, to comply with the strictest standards for controlling sulfur dioxide emissions imposed for a coal-fired plant in a legal settlement. Federal officials said sulfur and nitrogen dioxide emissions ultimately will be cut by 85 percent, or nearly 79,000 tons annually.

“EPA is committed to protecting clean air for communities by making sure coal-fired power plants comply with the law,” Cynthia Giles, an assistant administrator in EPA’s enforcement office, said in a statement.

Westar described the settlement as “an extension of our environmental stewardship.” General Counsel Larry Irick said the company said a lawsuit eventually could have forced Westar to install even more expensive technology, with no better effect on Jeffrey’s emissions.

“It makes more sense to reach a settlement to invest in cleaner environment than to spend money on lengthy litigation arguing about these allegations,” Irick said. “Protracted litigation won’t accomplish any environmental benefit, no matter how the case turns out.”

The legal dispute between Westar and the federal government centered on equipment Westar replaced for its three coal-fired units at Jeffrey in the 1990s. Jeffrey’s generating capacity of 1,991 megawatts is almost 31 percent of Westar’s total.

The EPA argued the changes at Jeffrey went beyond routine maintenance and that Westar failed to get necessary permits for the work. Also, the utility and federal officials disagreed on whether Westar was required to install more advanced technology than it did.

The company also estimates that from 2006 through 2009, it spent nearly $600 million to upgrade pollution controls at Jeffrey, installing new scrubbers to cut sulfur dioxide emissions.

But under the settlement, it will install a new system at one of its three units at Jeffrey by 2014 to reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions. Westar said such a system could then be installed on a second unit by 2016.

“The settlement agreement allows Westar to install this equipment in an orderly fashion,” Irick said.

The settlement also requires Westar to invest in plans to pursue additional wind-generated power, develop technology for truck stops to cut emissions from idling trucks and to cut emissions from its own vehicle fleet.

Westar-LJWorld October 12, 2009

posted Mar 31, 2010, 3:49 AM by Laura Calwell

Westar renovations will help clear the air

By Mark Fagan

October 12, 2009

Westar Energy Inc. is about to spend up to $380 million at its power plant at the northern edge of Lawrence, and the bulk of the investment will go for an industrialized version of a relatively common household appliance.

A vacuum cleaner.

The specialized equipment — collectively known as a pulse jet fabric filtration system — will be installed by the end of 2012, in time to meet federal air-quality standards that require such upgrades by 2014.

The project will be expected to begin early next year, with as many as 350 people to be working on the job as it moves along, said Greg Greenwood, Westar’s vice president for generation construction.

“The hotels will be busier,” he said. “The restaurants and grocery stores will be busier.”

And, he said, once the work is complete the air in and around Lawrence will be cleaner.

New filtration systems to be installed on two of the Lawrence Energy Center’s generation units will be designed to clear the air. With the new systems in place, more than 99 percent of the ash will be removed from flue gas leaving the center, said Dave Holt, project manager for Black & Veatch, the company hired by Westar to design and oversee the project.

Instead of shooting into the air, the fine particulates of ash — a dusty byproduct of burning coal — will gather on the outsides of more than 13,000 filter bags, each 33 feet long and 6 inches in diameter.

“The only way it has to get out to the chimney is through the filter bags,” Holt said, of the filters made from fiberglass, Teflon and other heavy-duty polymers. “It’s a bit like a vacuum-cleaner bag, if you will.”

Cleaning the filter bags will take some work. Once enough ash has accumulated, a massive compressor will generate pulses of air to compress each filter — “to wrinkle the bag, somewhat violently,” Holt said — so that ash can drop into a hopper for proper removal.

Greenwood said that the filters would be expected to last for three years before needing replacement, a life span that compares favorably to the disposable versions in normal household vacuums.

After all, he said, “we’ll be vacuuming every day.”

The filter project is only part of the work planned for the Lawrence Energy Center, which generates 19 percent of all power consumed by Westar’s 684,000 customers. Westar also plans upgrades to address emissions of nitrous oxide, another project intended to meet federal air-quality standards by 2014.

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