Friday, May 20, 2005

Power company faces lengthy process

First step for coal-fired plant is to collect meteorological data

Express Staff Writer

A peek into the future of any company that wants to build a coal-fired power plant in Idaho reveals a lengthy procedure of amassing data, submitting applications and acquiring permits before construction can begin.

Sempra Generation, a subsidiary of San Diego-based Sempra Energy, set the process in motion when it filed a permit application last month with the Jerome County Planning & Zoning Commission for a meteorological station.

Sempra announced it is looking at building a $1 billion, 600-megawatt coal-fired electric generating facility in Jerome County, about nine miles northeast of Jerome, and three miles east of Highway 75.

But before it can erect the meteorological station to gather data such as wind speed, wind direction, temperature and humidity, the company must acquire a permit. That request is on the Jerome County P&Z's agenda May 23.

Data gathered from the meteorological station will be collected and submitted as part of a permit application to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. If that permit is granted, it would be submitted to Jerome County officials for review in their decision whether to allow the coal-fired plant's construction.

Proposal of a facility in Idaho that would emit more than 100 tons of a regulated air pollutant automatically kicks in a PSD—Prevention of Significant Deterioration—review, said Bill Rogers, regional permit program coordinator for the DEQ.

As part of a PSD permit application, Sempra will have to provide a year's worth of on-site meteorological data to present to the DEQ, he added.

"That gives a picture of the (meteorological) conditions in the area where the facility is going to be located," Rogers said.

That data, combined with emissions estimates, is used in a modeling analysis.

"(The modeling analysis) is the crux of it because it predicts what the impact of the emissions are on the ambient air," Rogers said.

Ambient air is air the general public breathes, as opposed to air within a plant's building or fenced area, which is regulated by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Those impact predictions are then compared to national ambient air quality standards.

If the standard is exceeded, the applicant would have to install air pollution control devices, limit the coal they combust or limit their operations to protect the air quality standard, Rogers said.

Limitations are written into the permit. Then, they're monitored and recorded on a regular basis.

"We make sure what they propose in their application is consistent with our accepted methodology," he said.

"The underlying reason is to protect national ambient air quality standards and any air quality standards in a federally mandated program."

A federal land manager will also review the PSD, as can any member of the public, Rogers said.

Once submitted and reviewed, a copy of the application will be available in Jerome County and at the DEQ regional office in Twin Falls.

The DEQ will provide a 30-day public comment period, in which written comments will be accepted. Notices of the comment period will be published in a local newspaper and posted on the DEQ's Web site.

If a member of the public requests it, the DEQ will also hold a public hearing on the issue.

"For something like this, there's going to be a lot of public comment," Rogers said. "We encourage public participation in the process."

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