Bringing to a close discussions dating back to February, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Secretary Collin O’Mara recently announced that the agency has finalized a consent agreement with NRG Energy Inc. that will permanently shut down a third coal-fired electrical generating unit at the Indian River Power Plant in Millsboro by the end of 2013.
This agreement, which is being filed in superior court for final approval, paves the way for leaving only the facility’s newest and lowest-emitting unit to remain in operation. It is not expected to have significant impact on the local power supply or the overall cost to Delaware electric customers.
Under a consent decree, NRG agreed to shut down its two oldest units at the power plant in 2010 and 2011, respectively, and was to install air pollution controls on the newer Units 3 and 4 by the end of 2011 to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and mercury. In May, NRG discontinued operation of Unit 2.
In May 2011, the company will shut down Unit 1 and, by the end of that year, NRG will complete installation of pollution controls on its largest unit, Unit 4 – a project that will cost approximately $360 million and create up to 350 construction jobs.
As part of the finalized shutdown agreement, NRG will now operate Unit 3 in compliance with all existing state and federal emissions regulations only through 2013, rather than operating for decades with some additional pollution controls.
“This agreement will be a significant step forward for environmental quality and to restore the health of the Inland Bays,” said Gov. Jack Markell. “The agreement also includes a strong economic development component that provides critical workforce training for jobs in a clean energy economy.”
O’Mara also addressed the agreement and its impact on Sussex County and Delaware.
“This agreement will protect public health and improve air quality by significantly reducing air pollution and virtually eliminating the use of water and impacts on our fisheries from the Indian River Power Plant,” he said, adding that it dramatically reduces the amount of fly ash produced from coal combustion and significantly cuts greenhouse gas emissions – by almost 50 percent.
“Also, NRG’s plan for an offshore wind park, which will require 500 construction jobs, and now their commitment to provide specialized training for current employees and local workers for those jobs and other alternative energy programs, makes this a major step forward for Delaware’s improving public health and growing our clean-energy economy,” O’Mara said.
Alan Mueller, executive director of Green Delaware, a grassroots organization concerned with environmental and public health issues in Delaware and surrounding states, said he and other people from Green Delaware spoke in favor of the unit shutdown at the DNREC meeting in Millsboro this spring.
“Green Delaware has long called for a phase-out of coal burning in Delaware, and we are also opposed to the sale of coal-generated electricity in Delaware. We oppose, for example, the involvement of the Delaware Electric Coop in the ‘Cypress Creek’ coal project in Virginia. So the shutdown of Indian River Unit 3 is a step in the right direction.”
“On the other hand,” he continued, “we have concerns about the involvement of DNREC in ‘economic development’ agreements and activities. Even if the measures are good, as they seem to be in this case, it seems to raise all sorts of conflict-of-interest concerns for an environmental regulatory agency.
“Also, when this agreement surfaced a few months ago, I asked about the pollution reduction numbers, and it appeared that they came directly from NRG and not from DNREC’s air regulatory shop,” he noted, adding that some seemed to him to be “questionable and somewhat deceptive.”
Ali Mirzakhalili of DNREC’s Division of Air and Waste Management explained that the percentage reduction numbers were calculated by a “simple analysis” by the department, comparing the years the unit would have been emitting pollutants, over an expected lifespan of 30 years, and the few years it will by shutting it down by 2013.
Those numbers include, over and above what the 2007 agreement would have achieved (over an expected life of at least 30 years), an 86 percent reduction in water use by eliminating 59.13 billion gallons of cooling water drawn annually from Indian River; an 81 percent reduction of nitrogen oxide by eliminating about 1,173 tons annually; 49 percent reduction of sulfur dioxide by eliminating 6,252 tons annually; a 93 percent reduction of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by eliminating 837,000 tons annually; a 97 percent reduction in landfill materials, including eliminating fly ash production of between 40,000 and 70,000 tons annually; a 93 percent reduction of mercury emissions by eliminating 5 pounds annually; and a 93 percent reduction of particulate matter emissions.
Muller also added that, while Unit 4 might be the lowest-emitting unit by concentration of pollutants in the stack gases, it is not by total pounds per year coming out of the unit, because it is much larger than the others.
“Units 1 and 2 are each 80 MW of capacity and were placed in service in 1957 and 1959, respectively. Unit 3 is 155 MW of capacity and was placed in service in 1970, while Unit 4 is 410 MW of capacity and was placed in service in 1980.”
DNREC officials explained that, as part of the agreement, NRG has also committed to focus its negotiations for offshore wind turbines for the Bluewater Wind project on companies that “present a significant economic development and manufacturing opportunity for Delaware.”
In addition, NRG will develop job training programs in partnership with Delaware colleges, to provide training opportunities for current employees and the local labor force for clean-energy jobs, including the company’s planned offshore wind park, electric vehicle infrastructure and solar technology.
NRG officials have said they expect to get to appropriate staffing levels without layoffs, through retirements, retraining, attrition and redeployment.
Dave Gaier of NRG added, “This allows us to focus on our emission-control project, which is a $360 million investment. It also allows us to focus resources on advancing our Mid-Atlantic Wind Park Project.”
“Obviously, we are pleased we concluded the deal,” noted Gaier. “It’s a good outcome for Delaware and for the environment.”
NRG Energy Inc. acquired Bluewater Wind from Babcock & Brown and Arcadia Windpower in November 2009. Bluewater already had a 25-year 200-megawatt power purchase agreement, or PPA, with Delmarva Power and Light and plans for a wind park 13 miles offshore. Shortly after the acquisition, NRG Bluewater Wind was named to receive a 55-megawatt power purchase agreement with the State of Maryland, their second in the region.
DNREC officials explained that, prior to finalizing the shutdown agreement, they were “engaged in updating the facility’s permit that allows the intake of water from Indian River for cooling and the discharge of that water to the river to require significant reductions in the amount of water needed and temperature impacts through technology such as a closed cycle cooling water structure.”
Unit 4 is already equipped with a cooling water structure.
Additionally, DNREC has been “scrutinizing the disposal and containment of fly ash at the facility and impacts on water and air quality. A permit was recently issued requiring a state-of-the-art landfill to be constructed and mitigation measures are being implemented to contain an historic fly ash disposal area. NRG also recently agreed to install additional monitors to evaluate any airborne fly ash particles.”
While the agreement between DNREC and NRG seems to be good news to all concerned, as with anything, it doesn’t come without a price.
“The release glosses over the fact that Unit 3 is going to run two extra years without the emission controls previously agreed to,” said Mueller. “So, in the short term, the agreement means more – not less – pollution.
“Overall, Green Delaware supports the agreement,” Mueller said, adding that the organization “wishes the Markell administration was more open and honest in its ways of doing business.”
Part of the consent order deals specifically with NRG’s commitment to economic development in Delaware and providing job training opportunities including the following:
(1) Offshore wind manufacturing: NRG will be negotiating over the next six months with offshore wind turbine manufacturer(s) that would offer significant economic development and job opportunities for Delaware in connection with the NRG wind park or other offshore wind projects.
(2) DelTech training program: In partnership with Delaware Technical and Community College, NRG will help develop and provide $150,000 for a wind turbine technician training program in the construction and operation trades for any offshore wind project. Graduates will be trained in time for work on the Mid-Atlantic Wind Park.
(3) Construction training for NRG wind park: NRG will provide tuition reimbursement to qualified existing NRG employees who enroll in the DelTech technician training program, to be developed. NRG employees will be offered wind park construction jobs first, to the extent possible and consistent with state and federal employment laws.
(4) Electric vehicle infrastructure jobs: NRG and the University of Delaware expect to develop a program to train electricians to install home, commercial and public electric car charging stations as part of discussions for electric vehicle infrastructure development in Delaware.
(5) Solar infrastructure jobs: NRG will work with DelTech, University of Delaware and Delaware State University programs to train installers and service technicians of solar technologies. NRG will also evaluate developing large-scale solar projects, with attention to supporting local job creation in the areas of production, installation and maintenance.