Emissions rules debate far from settled

More aggressive mercury reduction could be on the horizon and it's best you are prepared, says Managing Editor Ken Schnepf.

By Ken Schnepf

Whether to fight, comply or wait and see is the dilemma facing coal-fired power plants and cement plants across the country when addressing federal and state mercury emissions rules. Being prepared may well be the best advice for both those plants and everyone else who will ultimately have to pay the price of mercury reduction in the form of higher energy costs.

The current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR) requires the plants to reduce mercury emissions 47% by 2010 and 79% by 2018. However, 10 states have banded together in a lawsuit aimed at achieving more aggressive mercury reduction. Additionally, Illinois, viewed as a pivotal state because it is highly industrialized and has a large number of coal-fired power plants, has more stringent proposed requirements to cut 90% or more of mercury pollution by June 30, 2009.

“We question if all the costs are worth the minimal benefits,” says Jim Monk, president of the Illinois Energy Association (IEA). The IEA (www.ilenergyassn.org) coordinates the activities of some 20 member utilities, that are fighting Illinois’ stricter regulations.

If Illinois plants are made to comply, the reliability of the electric power system, loss of high paying jobs and shutdowns of smaller plants are at stake, says Monk. Further, Illinois’ proposal overstates the technology available to comply, he says. The IEA is also willing to offer advice to plants outside of Illinois.

The outcome of Illinois’ regulations is likely to spread to other industrialized states. Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina and Wisconsin also are in the process of developing mercury emissions standards that are stricter than federal guidelines.

It costs approximately $1.25 per month per residential customer to reduce mercury emissions by 85% and $3 to $4 per month per customer to cut them by 95%, according to Bob McIlvaine of McIlvaine Co., which provides decision trees and technical information about air and water pollution and energy. For commercial customers, the cost increase would be ½% of the monthly bill for the 85% reduction and 1-1/2% for a 95% reduction. He agrees that the technology to achieve the more extreme reductions hasn’t been validated.

“It’s a very fluid situation, but many states are putting this at a very high priority,” says McIlvaine.
 Expect the current federal regulations to be struck down for more rigorous measures, says McIlvaine. Plants should be prepared to do more than expected. One approach the company suggests is to react the mercury with chlorine to form a soluble compound (www.mcilvainecompany.com/NAtoAPC/Chloride pre-scrubber.htm). Also, if other equipment upgrades are already scheduled, that may be the more economical time to implement mercury reduction measures. If coal-fired plants produced calcium chloride as a byproduct of mercury reduction and the chemical was applied to unpaved roads in the state, it would achieve a net reduction of ambient particulate. 

Another possible solution is a “Create and Trade” plan (www.mcilvainecompany.com/NAtoAPC/Destination.htm) with incentives for maximum mercury removal at the earliest possible date. Utilities that move forward with mercury reduction plans faster would be paid by the other less aggressive plants. Such a plan would make it attractive for third-party investors to fund mercury reduction projects.A combination of legal initiatives and technology appears to be the best approach, says McIlvaine.

“My best advice is to try to persuade policymakers,” says Monk. Keep the channels of communication open with government officials and agencies.
The following additional resources about mercury emissions rules are available:

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