Coal-fired Power Plants
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.
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 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.