New York Peaking Turbines

 

On February 28, 2019 the New York State of Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) proposed regulations to lower allowable nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from simple cycle and regenerative combustion turbines during the ozone season. On the face of it this should be a relatively simple air quality issue but it is complicated by Governor Cuomo’s clean energy agenda. I am motivated to write this post on air quality regulation and energy policy because the majority of what has been said so far about this regulation fails to discuss the complexities of the issue and misses the point of the regulations.

This post describes an open regulatory issue and I want to emphasize that the following represents my opinion and not the opinion of any of my previous employers or any other company with which I have been associated. Ozone pollution is currently New York State’s most difficult air quality issue and I have been following the particular aspect of these turbines and their effect on ozone for over 20 years. I will try to show in this post the background of the problem and how this regulation is embroiled in energy policy implications that are complicating the issue considerably.

Background

The proposed regulation covers simple cycle and regenerative combustion turbines but I am going to focus on just simple cycle turbines in New York City which make up the majority of the turbines in question. In the early 70’s Consolidated Edison was an integrated utility and responsible for generating and distributing electricity to New York City. Their generation planners developed a fleet of baseload, intermediate and peaking generating plants to provide power for the expected demand. (If you are unfamiliar with this concept I recommend the Generation Planning 101 section at this link).

Keep in mind that New York City requires massive amounts of power and there are geographical limitations as to how much can be imported in so the whole metropolitan area is a load pocket.   Moreover there were areas in the City that had their own load issues, i.e. they are in load pockets within the City-wide load pocket. In order to provide peaking power for the City and those areas Con Ed developed four combustion turbine facilities that use simple cycle turbines: Astoria (558 MW current nameplate capacity), Gowanus (640 MW), Narrows (352 MW) and Ravenswood (375.3 MW). According to the NYISO “Gold Book” in 2017 the net energy generated from all four facilities was 212.2 GWh with an overall capacity factor of 1.3% as shown in New York City Simple Cycle Peaking Turbines Summary.

New York City Simple Cycle Peaking Turbines Summary
  Number of Name Plate 2017 Net Energy Capacity
Facilities Turbines (MW) GWh Factor
Astoria 12 558.0 103.2 2.1%
Gowanus 32 640.0 31.9 0.6%
Narrows 16 352.0 56.6 1.8%
Ravenswood 10 375.3 20.5 0.6%
Total 70 1,925.3 212.2 1.3%

The units at these facilities are known as peaking turbines for a reason. They only run when power is really needed. For New York City this is primarily during the summer when load peaks due to air conditioning load. When Consolidated Edison was responsible for electric system reliability they had a fuel and generating mix that addressed peak load using these relatively cheap to install and operate turbines. Simple cycle turbines are basically jet engines hooked up to an electrical generator. In order for these sources to be profitable they have to recover all their operating and maintenance costs for the year during those peak periods. Part of the reason costs go up so much when energy demand is high is because of this effect.

 

While appropriate at the time they are ready for replacement. The turbines at these four facilities are approaching 50 years old, they are inefficient inasmuch as they burn more fuel than a new turbine to produce the same amount as power, and they are dirty, that is to say their emission rates are much higher than a modern turbine.

 

However, New York State de-regulated the electric sector at the turn of the century. As part of that process, Consolidated Edison sold most of their generating facilities and, in order to encourage competition, the in-city fossil generation assets were sold to three different companies. In the simpler time before de-regulation, DEC would have promulgated a phase-out rule and Consolidated Edison would have proposed replacement power generating facilities and received cost recovery from the NYS Department of Public Service in a rate case because of the obvious need.   Today’s owners have no such assurances. Instead they have to rely on the market to recover their investment costs. As a result energy policy is a major concern.

 

Ozone Air Quality Issue

As noted previously, ozone is New York State’s most difficult are quality problem. Despite years of progress ozone stubbornly fluctuates around the current National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) limit that protects human health. It is important to keep in mind that the limit has changed over time so there has been progress but reaching the current limit has proven difficult. Ground-level ozone is not directly emitted into the atmosphere. Instead it is created in a complex photo-chemical reaction (it needs sunlight) from oxides of nitrogen (NOX) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). It is difficult to control in New York City because there are two pollutants, the reaction that creates ozone takes time so wind transport is an issue and transport in the complicated wind regimes along the Atlantic and Long Island Sound coastlines is difficult to simulate.

 

Ozone reaches unhealthy levels on hot sunny days and therein lies the rub. On hot sunny days people want air conditioning and as a result those are the days of peak load. That means that the peaking turbines usually run on those days most conducive to ozone formation. On those days reductions at all sources of NOX and VOC have been considered to control ozone. Because NOX is emitted from all combustion sources and VOCs are emitted from most things that have an odor there are all kinds of sources that affect ozone concentrations. Peaking turbines are one of the last large sources and I believe need to be controlled. As a side note however, I don’t think that when they are controlled that ozone compliance will be attained but it is progress and their time has come.

Electric Sector Energy Policy

If this were only an air quality issue the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) would have simply promulgated a rule that requires phase out over time a long time ago. Unfortunately, there are energy policy ramifications, because while they are dirty, they also are necessary to provide power during peak periods. DEC wants to keep the lights on so they have not proposed such a rule until this time. During the development of the regulation the primary concern was how to develop a regulation that would give time for replacement power to be developed.

According to de-regulated utility theory the market will respond to needs when the price is right. In this case, that will be when developers believe the market supports permitting and building replacement power plants. I am not an economist or power plant developer but it is my opinion that you asking a lot of the market to provide an incentive to an investor to commit to developing a power plant anywhere, but (as we shall see) in New York that is doubly true. So what is the peaker market situation in New York? As mentioned before three companies currently own the four primary peaker turbine facilities in New York. One has not done anything. As far as I can tell that simply may because their facility has more site constraints than the other two companies. The other two companies have replacement plans.

According to the NYISO Gold Book, NRG Energy first proposed to re-power its Astoria Gas Turbine facility in the 2009 Gold Book and there is a project proposed in the most recent edition. Their plan is to build “fast-response, high efficiency combined cycle” turbines to replace the existing facility. New York has excruciating permitting requirements for power plants which are a major hurdle for development. The fact that NRG has a permitted project is a big plus. Again, I am no economist or power plant developer, but it appears to me that NRG thought they could make money when they were doing the permitting but has not yet decided to commence construction so they are not sure they can make money re-powering its turbines. Only time will tell whether that economic decision will change when this regulation is implemented.

Eastern Power Generation owns the Gowanus and Narrows turbine facilities. They have proposed to re-power Gowanus and retire Narrows at the formal start of their permitting process so they are navigating the process. In addition to emission reductions, their proposal will reduce the peak amount of power that can be generated. Given that their permitting program is proceeding they must believe they can make money once the facility is built.

 

To recap, DEC has proposed a regulation to phase out older peaking turbines because of their high emissions that affect ozone concentrations. The phase out is complicated by the need to insure peaking power is available but two owners have expressed interest in developing replacement power plants to meet that need. So on the face of it all looks good. If only it were this simple.

New York State Announcement

The only official announcement of this rule was from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation released proposed regulations to improve air quality and protect public health with new, stringent requirements on peak-use power plants. The proposal will substantially reduce emissions from the “peaking” power plants operating on the hottest days with the most air pollution. These dirty, inefficient plants, are also major sources of carbon pollution. Transitioning away from them is a critical component of achieving Governor Cuomo’s nation-leading Green New Deal. These regulations will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and shift to 100% clean electricity by 2040.

“Climate change is a frightening reality, and while the federal administration buries its head in the sand, New York is taking action to protect our environment and the health of our residents,” Governor Cuomo said. “These proposed regulations are a critical step toward getting older, dirty power plants off the grid in the state’s most vulnerable areas, and demonstrates New York’s leadership in developing a clean energy economy and healthier communities for generations to come.”

There are several odd things about this announcement. Firstly, it did not come from the agency responsible for the rule. I am not sure why DEC would not have made it. The press release correctly notes that it will substantially reduce emissions from peaking power plants. However it states that these units are “also major source of carbon pollution”. Then it goes on to state that this is a critical component for the greenhouse gas emissions goals. The comment about “getting older, dirty power plants off the grid in the state’s most vulnerable areas” is an apparent sop to the environmental justice community. The bottom line is that we have gone from an air quality issue complicated by de-regulation to a “critical” component of Governor Cuomo’s Green New Deal and all the political pandering that entails. I address these points relative to the real world below.

Cuomo’s announcement says that these sources are a major source of carbon pollution. The four peaking turbine facilities I am focusing on in this post emitted 79,385 tons of CO2 in 2017. Other RGGI affected sources in New York emitted 26,064,607 tons of CO2 in 2017. I do not agree that 0.32% of the electric sector emissions is significant. The claim that these turbines are a major source of carbon pollution is absurd.

Cuomo also claims that this is a critical component of the needed reductions for his goals. The NYSERDA Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990-2015 contains an inventory of historical greenhouse gas emission data from 1990-2015 for New York State’s energy and non-energy sectors. It shows that in 2015 the electric sector was responsible for 16.3% of the state’s emissions. The percentage of these peaking turbines to total electric sector emissions is only 0.043%.   One of the Cuomo goals is to reduce total NYS emissions 80% from 1990 levels. In 1990 CO2 emissions in New York State totaled 185,719,081 tons so the goal will be to get down to 37,143,816 tons. In 2015, CO2 emissions were 164,726,801 tons so the State “only” has to reduce another 127,582,985 tons. If the state is to meet the 2050 goal, then reductions of 3,645,228 tons per year are necessary. In other words the peaking turbines “critical” component (79,385 tons) is 2.2% of the reduction needed for one year which is, again, absurd.

My concern is with the energy policy implications. The announcement also quotes Cuomo as saying “These proposed regulations are a critical step toward getting older, dirty power plants off the grid in the state’s most vulnerable areas”. While these plants are indisputably old and dirty the energy policy question is whether they can be replaced by markedly cleaner fossil. Cuomo was badgered into “committing” to no new natural gas plants in May 2018. In February 2018 the Administration forced the New York Power Authority to do additional studies of the proposed Empire State Plaza Microgrid and Combined Heat and Power Plant project in Albany because the power plant was going to be powered by natural gas in response to local pressure to not use natural gas. I am not sure what the Administration position is on natural gas units for his Green New Deal. Additionally note that the New York City Council Climate Mobilization Act proposed regulation requires the city to complete a study over the next two years on the feasibility of closing all 24 oil- and gas-burning power plants in city limits and replacing them with renewables and batteries. Ultimately the question is whether the environmental agenda for absolutely no more natural gas infrastructure will derail the proposals for new power plants.

 The air quality issue is whether these climate related energy agenda policies will affect the schedule for the replacement of these power plants. One last time, I am no economist or power plant development investor but it seems to me that these are not policies that encourage the proposed re-powering projects. On the other hand I have done enough energy research to determine that replacing dispatchable peaking power with renewables and enough energy storage to guarantee power is available for the peak needs given New York City constraints is a technological reach and a money pit. I fear that the politicians are going to delay what I believe what will ultimately be determined as necessary re-powering projects.

 Conclusion

While many stories I have read about the proposed regulation to retire these peaking turbines as a component of Cuomo’s clean energy initiatives that is not the case. The New York City peaking turbines need to be replaced as part of the process of ozone attainment. They are dirty and inefficient but most of all they are approaching 50 years old and may fail when needed most. Proposals have been made to replace existing units with modern, efficient and markedly cleaner units. Unfortunately the energy innumerate claim that they can be replaced with renewables but the reality is that that is a technological stretch. The real story is that Cuomo’s energy initiatives will likely delay replacing these units or putting the City at risk of another black out banking on an untried and technologically challenging renewable and storage plan.

NY Green Deal: Offshore Wind

This is one of a series of posts on Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s New York State Green New Deal. As part of his 2019 Justice Agenda he included a “nation-leading clean energy and jobs agenda that will put the state on a path to carbon neutrality across all sectors of New York’s economy”.

Not surprisingly there are no details other than the announcement, no mention of potential costs, and no explanation how all this will affect any of the many impacts that he claims are caused by climate change. There is a proposal to provide the plan to make New York carbon neutral and I will blog on those plans as they become available. In the meantime this post discusses the language used to describe the plan to make New York the national hub for offshore wind and deploy 9,000 megawatts by 2035 as part of the New York Green New Deal.

In the following sections I list the text from the announcement and my indented and italiczed comments follow.

New York is leading the nation on offshore wind, which, as an emerging clean energy industry in the U.S., has tremendous potential for both the energy sector and economic development in the state. Called for by Governor Cuomo and released in 2018, New York’s Offshore Wind Master Plan is the most comprehensive offshore wind strategy in the country and has charted the course for this energy resource to play a significant role in achieving a carbon-free electricity grid. In November 2018, New York issued its first major offshore wind solicitation for at least 800 megawatts, which will set the stage for large-scale development of this important resource and the economic advantages that come with it.

Although the course has been charted, aside from issuing a solicitation there really hasn’t been any implementation progress.

To ensure New York State is the focal point for offshore wind development and this growing industry, Governor Cuomo is proposing nearly quadrupling the State’s target for offshore wind deployment from 2,400 megawatts by 2030 to 9,000 megawatts by 2035, the most aggressive offshore wind goal in U.S. history.

The more relevant number is MWh or megawatt hour which is the measure of energy. New York State energy announcements usually report new facilities in MW or megawatts or power capacity. I believe this is mis-leading because a cursory comparison of this announcement’s 2,400 MW is close to Indian Point’s 2,311 MW capacity. However because wind energy is intermittent, the 2400 MW will only produce 8,977,000 MWh using National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) 42.7 capacity factor while Indian Point produced 15,305,000 MWh.

 I used the NREL capacity factor to determine the energy produced.   According to the NREL’s 2017 Cost of Wind Energy Review, the levelized cost of energy off-shore wind is over two and a half times more expensive ($124 per MWh vs $47 per MWh). For the 6,000 MW of offshore wind mandated the estimated cost would be $4.174 billion.

To complement this bold statement of national and global leadership, Governor Cuomo is directing new actions, as part of the Green New Deal, to accelerate offshore wind progress in three specific areas: port infrastructure, workforce development, and transmission infrastructure.

Ports: Invest $200 million in New York port infrastructure to unlock private supply chain capital and maximize the long-term economic benefits to the state from the regional development of offshore wind. This multi-location investment would represent the nation’s largest infrastructure commitment to offshore wind and would solidify New York’s position as the hub of the burgeoning U.S. offshore wind industry.

Workforce Development: Establish a New York State Advisory Council on Offshore Wind Economic and Workforce Development and invest in an offshore wind training center that will provide New Yorkers with the skills and safety training required to construct this clean energy technology right here in New York.

Transmission: Initiate a first of its kind effort to evaluate and facilitate the development of an offshore transmission grid that can benefit New York ratepayers by driving down offshore wind generation and integration costs.

In order to get the off-shore wind power to market, we have to add $200 million for port upgrades, train workers at some cost, and build an off-shore transmission grid. The NREL estimate of over $4 billion does not cover all the costs of off-shore wind!

The development and adoption of offshore wind is a critical component of the transition to a clean energy economy and presents a major economic opportunity for New Yorkers, including the creation of thousands of high-quality jobs. With these new commitments, the New York will continue to lead in this exciting and developing field.

Denmark has offered to help New York’s offshore wind development. However, in 2016 the Danish government decided to abort the plans to build five offshore wind power farms, which were to stand ready by 2020.  At the same time, Denmark is also scraping its green energy tariffs and abandoning some of its climate goals. “Since 2012 when we reached the political agreement, the cost of our renewable policy has increased dramatically,” said Minister for Energy and Climate Lars Christian Lilleholt to Reuters.  The real lesson maybe to beware this source of renewable energy.

New York State Environmental Regulatory Hypocrisy

I have admired those skeptics that would not stop until they had open access to the climatic data that was used for the hockey stick calculations. In my own way I try to emulate their tenacity attempting to get policy makers to use the best rationale for decisions. This is a story of a complete failure of an attempt of mine in that regard.

This post reflects my opinion as a private retired citizen. They do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these opinions are mine alone.

The Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) is a regional cap-and-trade program that regulates emissions from large fossil fuel-fired electricity generating units (EGUs) that produce electricity for sale and have a nameplate capacity greater than 25 megawatts electrical. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) recently revised their Parts 243, 244, and 245 rules to ensure New York maintains authority to allocate federal CSAPR allowances to regulated in-state generators and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

CSAPR is a cap and trade program. In this approach a cap is set that limits the total amount that sources can emit. Allowances representing a ton of emissions are distributed equal to the level of the cap. Sources have flexibility to choose how to meet their limits by either reducing their own emissions or purchasing allowances from other sources. Sources measure and report emissions, and must have sufficient allowances to cover their emissions. If they fail to surrender an allowance for each ton of pollution emitted then there are significant automatic penalties. This approach has been very successful so far but as the caps are ratcheted down there are limits to how well it work in the future.

New York State has submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency complaining that the CSAPR emission caps in upwind states are insufficient to enable New York to meet the ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard limits. They claim that those emissions create so much ozone in the State that it is impossible for in-state sources to reduce enough to meet the ozone limits. They have submitted comments that claim that the upwind sources are not running their existing control equipment enough to lower emissions.

This is a component of cap and trade that some claim is a weakness of the approach. If the cost of an allowance is cheaper than the cost to run control equipment to reduce a ton of pollution, then the source will choose to emit rather than run the control equipment. If you want emissions as low as possible then this frustrates lower emissions. Ultimately this is a problem related to the size of the cap. If the cap is too high then allowances are cheap and their costs will be low and this problem will arise.

Earlier this year the DEC proposed changes to their regulations for the cap and trade programs associated with CSAPR. Their process includes a stakeholder meeting where the proposed rule changes are presented and stakeholders get to ask questions. This is followed by a formal release of the proposed rules and a comment period. Comments are submitted and the final rule is promulgated after consideration of the comments.

My particular problem with the DEC revised rules is that it has an allocation methodology that rewards sources that do not run their control equipment to the full extent possible. In CSAPR, EPA allocates each state a fixed number of allowances. The states get to pick how they allocate those allowances to the affected sources. In earlier programs DEC allocated allowances based on operations and the state-wide emission rate that they determined would meet the cap. In that case, a source had an incentive to run their pollution control equipment more because it would generate extra allowances that could be sold beyond those needed for compliance. The recently promulgated rule awards allowances based on recent emissions. In this case a source that does not run its pollution control equipment gets more allowances!

Despite my comments pointing out this problem and simply recommending that they go back to the previous allowance allocation methodology DEC promulgated the rule with the emissions allowance allocation methodology. It seems hypocritical of DEC to demand that upwind states reduce their emissions when their own rules reward sources that do the same thing.

CPV Valley Energy Center Operating Status August 1, 2018

On August 1, 2018 New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) CPV Valley Permit denied (DEC letter to CPV August 2018) the renewal of the Air State Facility Permit for the Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) Valley Energy Center natural gas power plant located in Orange County, New York. In this post I will describe the decision, what I think is going to happen, potential ramifications, and rationale for the decision. Initially, I thought it might have been an oversight on the part of CPV Valley but the more I poked around the more evidence surfaced that this was a politically motivated decision that will likely end up in court.

Background and Decision

On July 8, 2018, the Middletown Times-Herald Record reported that the “$900 million, 680-megawatt plant built between Interstate 84 and Route 6 will be connected to a natural-gas pipeline in a matter of days, and should begin full-time operation in a matter of weeks.” At the time the last apparent hold up was connecting the plant to the natural gas transmission system after New York Governor Cuomo’s administration tried to block the construction of the connecting pipeline after the plant was nearing completion. However, CPV Valley did not apply for their Title V operating permit and DEC said in their letter that “CPV may not lawfully operate the facility”.

On August 3, 2018, the Middletown Times-Herald Record reported:

The state Department of Environmental Conservation announced its decision in a letter to CPV officials on Wednesday, one day after the air permit DEC granted in 2013 expired. A department official explained that a change in federal regulations required CPV to get a so-called Title V permit from the Environmental Protection Agency before starting up the plant, something the company had not done.

It was not immediately clear if CPV, which had planned to begin operating the $900 million power plant in Wawayanda this month, will contest the decision, or comply with it by applying for a Title V permit. It also was unclear how long it would take to obtain such a permit and what obstacles the company could face. The DEC letter said the permit application requires a public comment period and a 45-day review period for the EPA.

What is going to happen?

I believe that this article is correct that this represents a delay rather than a sign that the facility will not operate someday. The Albany Times Union headline that says State pulls plug on controversial Orange County power plant is incorrect and a Riverkeeper article that suggests that this permit denial indefinitely shuts down the power plant are wrong.

This is a controversial power plant for two reasons. Firstly, there is strong environmentalist opposition to any fossil fuel infrastructure and second there is an associated political scandal. This is election season in New York and the Governor is trying to keep his environmental credentials as clean as possible. This facility’s opponents consistently link this plant to fracked natural gas and point out that it will delay the transition to renewables and call for its permanent closure. Nothing about this administration shocks me anymore so even shutting down a plant needed to replace power from the closure of Indian Point so I would not be that surprised to see them propose that but I can guarantee that there is no way that the permitting process for the missing permit will be completed until well after the election.

The political scandal occurred when a top Cuomo aide was found guilty of getting an executive from CPV to get his wife a high paying “low-show” job for his wife. The payments were in exchange for helping to win state power contracts. Apparently CPV took the lobbying approach to get their power plant commissioned because there is a money trail to politicians associated with the plant. As a result of this there have been calls to prevent the power plant from opening.

Ramifications

I have written about the role of CPV Valley as replacement power for Indian Pont (a nuclear station that Cuomo has forced into accepting a shutdown in April 2021. The New York Independent System Operator concluded that there would be no issues with replacement power if three major generation facilities were completed including CPV Valley. As noted above, because I believe this represents a delay rather than a cancellation I do not expect that to be an issue. However, if Cuomo’s political team decides to go all in for the environmentalist vote and he refuses to give them an operating permit reliability issues will arise.

I have always been on the technical side of things in the power industry. My dealings with the business side of the house were uniformly stressful because their idea of long lead time was tomorrow and environmental permitting takes time so I was always pushed to produce faster. Nonetheless I question whether permanently shutting down a completed power plant makes NY “Open for Business” generally. If I were on the business side of a power generating company I certainly would not be comfortable proposing to build a new power plant to replace the old power plants that the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) wants shut down. It will be interesting to see how this turns out not only in the short term but also the long haul.

Rationale

I did not understand how CPV Valley got into a position where they did not even have an application listed on the NYS DEC draft Title V permit website. Title V permits are described as the “operating permit”. How in the world did CPV Valley think that they would not need that?

The Middletown Times Herald-Record article says “A department official explained that a change in federal regulations required CPV to get a so-called Title V permit from the Environmental Protection Agency before starting up the plant, something the company had not done.” Trying to determine what that statement meant was a challenge.

According to the CPV Valley website description of the permitting approval process the first permitting submittal was completed in March 2008. The Town of Wawayanda Planning Board SEQRA Findings Statement was published on May 23, 2012.

In 2013 there was a revision to 6 CRR-NY 201-6.2 Permit Applications to clarify the acceptable time frame for the submittal of Title V permit applications: Renumbered Paragraphs 201- 6.2(a)(1) through 201-6.2(a)(4) were revised to clarify the acceptable time frame for the submittal of Title V permit applications. According to this rule they should have had a complete application prior to construction:

The owner or operator of a facility subject to this Subpart shall submit a complete application, as defined in Part 621 of this Title and this Subpart, for initial issuance of a title V permit, or renewal, in accordance with the timeframes established under paragraphs (1) through (6) of this subdivision:

(1) Prior to the commencement of construction of a new facility subject to permitting under this Subpart

The SEQRA Findings Statement mentions that they submitted an “application for regulatory agency review in conjunction with Federal and State PSD and non-attainment new source review requirements and process” before March 2012.  There is no mention of a Title V permit in the document.

It looks like there was a rule change after the project was permitted and the revision clearly says that a new facility has to have a complete Title V permit before they can begin construction. I can only guess that CPV Valley thought that because they had a State facility permit that it would roll over as if it were an existing facility modification per sub-sections (2) and (3):

(2) Prior to the commencement of operation of new emission unit(s) or modified emission units at an existing facility that make the facility subject to title V permitting. The owner or operator of a facility subject to this provision may choose to apply for a State facility permit pursuant to section 201-5.2 of this Part. Upon issuance, that permit shall authorize both construction and operation of the new or modified emission units until a title V permit is issued in accordance with this Subpart.

(3) Prior to the commencement of construction of a new emission unit at an existing title V facility. The owner or operator of an existing title V facility, which is being modified by the addition of a new emission unit comprised solely of new emission sources, may apply for a State facility permit pursuant to section 201-5.2 of this Part that will authorize construction and operation of the new emission unit upon issuance. A title V permit modification is required within one year of the commencement of operation of the new emission unit.

I did a Google Search for CPV Air State Facility Permits and found the pre-construction permit  (CPV Valley Permit). It turns out the CPV Valley thought that were all right because their permit said “A Title V permit application must be submitted to the Department within one year of commencement of operation of this facility.” The rationale was that the application would include “start-up, shutdown, and fuel switching data to establish enforceable combustion turbine start-up, shutdown, and fuel switching emission rates for NOx, CO, and NH3, and confirm that such established rates would not result in a violation of applicable NAAQS.”

Back to the statement from the Middletown Times Herald-Record that “A department official explained that a change in federal regulations required CPV to get a so-called Title V permit from the Environmental Protection Agency before starting up the plant, something the company had not done.” I am no lawyer but as far as I can tell the change in the DEC regulations in response to the federal regulations came in 2013  before the CPV Air State Facility permit was issued that explicitly said the Title V application had to be submitted within one year of the commencement of operations and if it was after CPV Valley has a permit that shields them from this change. I don’t think that there is any chance that this won’t be headed to court.

New York State Air Pollution Emissions Status

I do not think that the general public understands how much improvement there has been to New York State’s air quality and how big the emissions reductions have been.   This is a summary of the trend of SO2, NOx and CO2 since 1999 in New York State and it shows extraordinary improvements. Later, I will prepare a summary of the changes to the air quality measurements which also show big improvements.

I have to apologize for my inability to incorporate tables and graphs in the body of a WordPress blog post. If I had that ability then this post would be a heck of a lot easier to read. Instead I offer three alternatives. Each of the figures and tables is available by links in the following post. I also have prepared a version of this post and you can view NYS Air Pollution Emission Status Summary  as a pdf document.  Finally that document, three spreadsheets with the data, tables and graphs, and a detailed documentation summary of the data processing analysis are available at the NY Pragmatic Environmentalist dropbox.

The emissions and operating data used for this summary were downloaded from the EPA Clean Air Markets Division Air Markets Program Data website. The website includes a query tool that I have used for years to extract specific data from national emission monitoring programs. For this analysis I downloaded SO2, NOx and CO2 emissions data, operating time, heat input and load data as well as unit-specific information on fuel use and unit type so that I could show what changes caused the emissions reductions. Because this is a New York-centric blog I primarily focused on New York emissions.

Figure 1 NYS SO2 Emissions by Fuel Type documents the annual SO2 emissions from 1998 to 2017 by the primary fuel type reported to EPA. In 1998 SO2 emissions totaled 309,775 tons and in 2017 were only 2,561, a 99% reduction. Table 1 EPA CAMD Data New York State Air Pollution Emissions from All Program Units presents the emissions totals and includes the coal-firing totals. It turns out that reductions in coal-firing and residual-oil firing account for the reduction in SO2 mass. New York is unique in that there are five relatively new large residual oil-fired boiler units in the state. Although there were changes in the limit of sulfur in fuel the primary driver for the reductions was the cost of oil relative to natural gas coupled with the fact that there is essentially no SO2 emitted by natural gas firing. At this time these units survive because they can provide 1000s of MW when necessary and their operational costs are low enough that the payments to be able to provide that capacity are sufficient to be viable. Note, however, that they cannot reduce emissions much more because they still have to run a couple of times a year to prove that they can provide capacity. Coal-firing units in New York were older and were required to install extensive controls over this period to continue to operate. The cost differential between natural gas and coal was the final blow to viability and for all intents and purposes only one facility remains operating today. Governor Cuomo has proposed regulations to eliminate coal burning at even that unit by 2020. These data suggest the de minimus level of future SO2 emissions will be around 1,000 tons per year.

Figure 2 NYS NOx Emissions by Fuel Type documents the annual NOx emissions from 1998 to 2017 by the primary fuel type reported to EPA. In the peak year of 2000 NOx emissions totaled 101,635 tons and in 2017 were only 11,253, an 89% reduction. The coal and residual oil units were also the largest sources for NOx so they account for most of the reduction. On the other hand there still are significant NOx emissions from natural gas firing so the reductions are not as large. Eliminating coal firing will drop emissions another 2,770 tons from 2017 levels. Further reductions will come from replacing older, higher emitting units with new cleaner ones. If I had to guess on a future de minimus level it would be around 7,000 tons per year.

Figure 3 NYS Statewide SO2 and NOx Rates documents the changes in annual emission rates (lbs/mmBtu) over the same period. The reason for these changes is the same as the mass changes. Keep in mind that mass emissions are a function of these rates and the operating levels. If there is more demand on fossil-fired units then they will emit more. Of course, if renewable energy reduces the need for fossil-fired units or if demand for electrical energy goes down due to energy efficiency efforts then mass emissions will go down.

CO2 emissions are a bit complicated. There are two CO2 data sets included: one from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) program units and the other from all programs. In New York there are some small peaking turbines that are not presently included in RGGI. Unfortunately the annual emissions are not directly comparable because units that are not affected by RGGI do not have to report annual emissions only the ozone season (May through September). Also note that the RGGI CO2 Allowance Tracking System (COATS) data system also provides annual numbers for the RGGI only units and those numbers are the same as the RGGI only units from CAMD. Figure 4 NYS CO2 Emissions by Fuel Type lists the annual CO2 emissions from 1998 to 2017 by the primary fuel type reported to EPA. Table 2 EPA CAMD Data NYS Air Pollution Annual Emissions from RGGI Program Units lists the annual emissions from these units. These data show that CO2 emissions reductions to date have been caused by fuel switching but importantly there isn’t much left to switch. As a result, future CO2 emission reductions will be more difficult.

In addition to annual market trading programs there are trading programs that run from May 1 to September 30 for NOx emissions to reduce ozone.   Figure 5 NYS Ozone Season NOx Emissions shows the Ozone Season NOx emissions from 1999 to 2017 by the primary fuel type reported to EPA. In 1999 NOx emissions totaled 47,314 tons and in 2017 were only 5,533 tons, an 88% reduction. Figure 6 NYS Ozone Season NOx Rate documents the changes in ozone season emission rates (lbs/mmBtu) over the same period. The state-wide NOx rate during the Ozone Season in 1999 was 0.202 lbs per mmBtu and was 0.053 in 2017, a 74% reduction. Similar to the annual numbers these reductions are primarily the result of fuel switching. Finally Table 3 New York State Ozone Season NOx Mass by Unit Type lists the Ozone Season NOx mass, heat input and NOx rate values sorted by major unit types: boilers, combined-cycle turbines and simple cycle turbines.

These trends show that New York State has done a superlative job reducing emissions.  There also are implications for future air pollution control programs in these data.  Any future reductions simply cannot be as effective because the current emissions are so low.  In addition, any program that claims air pollution emission benefits for reducing CO2 must recognize the current low rates and mass emissions or those benefit estimates are higher than appropriate.

 

Unintended Ramification of the Finger Lakes LPG Storage Community Character Decision

On July 12, 2018, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos issued a decision for a proposal to construct and operate a new underground liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) storage facility for the storage and distribution of propane in the town of Reading in the Finger Lakes region of New York. The decision denied the permit applications for the proposed project on the grounds the facility would have a significant adverse impact on community character in the local area and the Finger Lakes region. This post compares the changes made to the proposed project by the Finger Lakes LPG project with an industrial wind complex, the Ball Hill Wind Energy Project between the initial environmental impact statement and the final environmental impact statement. It is not clear to me how any wind energy project can pass the bar set by this community character decision.

DEC Decision

I discussed the NYSDEC decision in an earlier post where I concluded that it values qualitative value judgements over any quantitative assessment and will establish “not in my backyard” arguments as an acceptable rationale for denying just about any project.  I determined that based on the conclusion of the opening section of the decision by Basil Seggos that states:

Notwithstanding that certain issues can be identified as adjudicable, the record is more than sufficient at this stage for me to make a final determination based on the requirements of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). The record demonstrates that the impacts of this project on the character of the local and regional community, including but not limited to the environmental setting and sensitivity of the Finger Lakes area and the local and regional economic engines (e.g., wine, agricultural and tourism industries), are significant and adverse and the project does not avoid or minimize those impacts to the maximum extent practicable. Furthermore, the significant adverse impacts on community character are not outweighed or balanced by social, economic or other considerations, and cannot be avoided or minimized to the maximum extent practicable by the proposed mitigation measures.

My decision, together with the draft supplemental environmental impact statement (DSEIS) and the comprehensive record, hereby serves to finalize the DSEIS for this action. Based upon my review, I am not able to issue a findings statement in support of this project and, accordingly, the permit applications for this proposed project are to be denied.

Frankly, I was not familiar with community character impacts so I relied on the description in the decision. Community character is described in the decision as follows:

Community character is specifically referenced by the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). SEQRA defines “environment” to include “the physical conditions which will be affected by a proposed action, including . . . existing patterns of population concentration, distribution, or growth, and existing community or neighborhood character” (ECL 8-0105[6]; see also 6 NYCRR 617.2[l]). Unique to each case is the “community” to be evaluated – it will relate to the type of action that is being proposed, the factual circumstances and the nature of the impacts. For some projects, the “community” may be only the municipality in which the proposed action would occur. Here, the interests of a range of communities within the vicinity of Seneca Lake, as in part reflected by the submissions of the Seneca Lake Communities in this proceeding, are clearly relevant to the analysis. The evaluation of community character in this specific matter is not solely limited to the communities (Town of Reading and County of Schuyler) in which the proposed facility would be sited but entails an evaluation of communities in and around Seneca Lake and the Finger Lakes region whose economies and environmental interests are directly intertwined.

One community character rationale is particularly apt for this comparison. The decision noted that “impacts to noise and aesthetic resources as revealed on the current record are essential components in the evaluation of impacts on community character in the context of this proposed project”.

The Finger Lakes LPG Storage Project as Described in the Decision

Finger Lakes LPG Storage, LLC originally proposed to build a facility that would store propane and butane in existing solution-mined underground caverns in the Syracuse salt formation. As originally proposed, a maximum of 2.10 million barrels (88.20 million gallons) of LPG in the form of liquid propane and butane was to be stored in the caverns seasonally, displacing some of the brine currently filling them. The stored LPG was to be withdrawn by displacement of propane with brine when demand occurred during the heating season, and displacement of butane with brine during the gasoline blending season.

During storage operations, the brine displaced by LPG or butane was proposed to be stored and contained in two double-lined brine ponds. One 2.25 acre pond would have had a capacity of approximately 0.17 million barrels (7.14 million gallons). The second pond was 6.35 acres, and would have a capacity of approximately 0.80 to 0.81 million barrels (33.6 to 33.9 million gallons)

The facility would connect to an existing interstate pipeline for shipment of LPG into and out of the facility. As originally proposed, LPG was also to be shipped out by truck, and by rail. The original project included the construction of a new rail and truck LPG transfer facility, consisting of a six-rail siding capable of allowing loading and unloading of 24 rail cars within 12 hours, and a truck loading station capable of loading four trucks per hour.

During the application process modifications were proposed to reduce the scale and environmental impacts of the project in response to local stakeholder concerns. The modifications eliminated the proposal to store liquid butane at the facility and reduced propane storage capacity from 2.1 million barrels to 1.5 million barrels; eliminated the project’s rail and truck loading facilities so all deliveries of liquefied petroleum gas would be by pipeline; eliminated one of the brine ponds; and, for lack of a better term offered bribes as they proposed to “provide resources ranging from financial resources to technical resources (mining data) to support community initiatives for the preservation and improvement of water quality in the area, including Seneca Lake”.

Ball Hill Windpark as Described on the Project Website

Noble Ball Hill Windpark, LLC originally proposed to construct and operate an approximately 94.5 megawatt (MW) wind energy facility in Chautauqua County, New York in 2008 and submitted an Environmental Assessment Form. According to Appendix F – 2008 Environmental Assessment Form and 2015 Board Resolution the project consisted of the following:

  • 60 wind turbines;
  • 16 miles of access roads;
  • An electrical collection system along the same right-of-way corridor as the access roads with 23.8 miles buried and 6 miles of overhead.
  • A new substation with a footprint of approximately 200 by 300 feet;
  • A new switchyard with a footprint of approximately 300 by 500 feet; and
  • An operations and maintenance building site of 5 acres

In November 2016, Ball Hill Wind Energy, LLC submitted a Final Environmental Impact Statement with changes to the project:

  • 29 instead of 60 wind turbines;
  • 13 instead of 16 miles of access roads;
  • An electrical collection system along the same right-of-way corridor as the access roads with 19.8 miles instead of 23.8 miles buried and 5.7 miles instead of 6 miles of overhead.
  • A new substation with a footprint of approximately 175 by 190 instead of 200 by 300 feet;
  • A new switchyard with a footprint of approximately 225 by 611 instead of 300 by 500 feet; and
  • An operations and maintenance building site of 2.8 acres

I was unable to find a description of the turbines originally proposed but in 2008 the local township wind law limited the maximum height to 420’. In 2011 the developer submitted an amended application using a new turbine design. In September 2016 the developer requested that be changed to 495’ to allow for the use of “newer, more efficient turbine technology. The 2016 Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement states that there will be 34 3.45MW Vestas wind turbines with a hub height of 72.5m and a 51.2 blades. I understand that the current developer recently requested another change to the maximum height restriction to 600’ but do not know if that is for these Vestas turbines or another, and presumably, higher design.

Noise Comparison of Projects

I am guessing at the noise impacts of the final Finger Lakes LPG Storage proposal. It proposed to use two electric 75 horse power pumps to pump product from the tanks into the pipeline to the electronically driven injection pumps where those pumps will then be used to inject the product into the caverns. I expect that insulated walls and advanced fan technology would have been used to dampen sound. Moreover, because the proposed plant area is adjacent to a NYSE&G building complex and NYS Route 14 there was a certain amount of ambient noise in the area anyways.

According to the Ball Hill Windpark 2018 Proposed Modifications Summary of Environmental Impacts:

The new proposed turbine is quieter or the same at 750 out of 769 receptor points studied. At the remaining 19 points, the sound level would increase imperceptibly by 1-2 dBA. The Project remains fully compliant with Town and NYSDEC noise standards.

In summary, I conclude that the noise impacts from the two projects are essentially the same. Without more research I am not sure why the opponents of Finger Lakes LPG Storage were so upset about noise because the revised plan eliminated truck and rail transport which would have affected noise levels.

Aesthetic considerations Compared

The primary aesthetic issue is visibility and Ball Hill Windpark will have 29 highly visible wind turbines. The project will use a VI26 class turbine which is a three-bladed horizontal-axis wind turbine with a rotor diameter of approximately 413 feet. The turbine rotor and the nacelle are mounted on top of a tubular tower giving a rotor hub height of approximately 285 feet. The maximum height for the turbine is below 500 feet when a rotor blade is at the top of its rotation. Once installed, the wind turbine would occupy a round base approximately 60 feet in diameter.

According to the 2018 Proposed Modifications Summary of Environmental Impacts wind turbines will be visible in 33.9% of the area within the 5-mile viewshed. According to the 2008 Environmental Assessment Form the smaller turbines originally proposed would be visible from greater than 5 miles from a parcel of land which is “dedicated to and available to the public for the use, enjoyment and appreciation of natural or man-made scenic qualities” and “an overlook or parcel of land dedicated to public observation, enjoyment and appreciation of natural or man-made scenic qualities”, and a “site or structure listed on the National or State Registers of Historic Places” and between ½ and 3 miles to a State Wildlife Management Area.

In addition, there are the access roads, overhead electric lines, switchyard, substation and operations and maintenance building site that all have an aesthetic effect.

The final proposal for the Finger Lake LPG Storage facility was a brine pond, a compressor station, and a support building. The more visible (and eventually eliminated) brine pond was proposed to be a maximum height of 50 feet above its down slope toe on a site with variable slopes in the 8 to 12 percent range. The slope tends to steepen downhill in the area under the proposed impoundment structure. When full, the pond surface will be approximately 400 feet above Seneca Lake elevation, at a horizontal distance from the lake of approximately 2400 feet.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement noted:

The brine pond embankment and portions of site clearing will be visible or partially visible from NYS Route 414 and Seneca Lake. Once the brine pond is constructed and the side slopes of the embankment are vegetated, the view from Seneca Lake and NYS Route 414 is anticipated to be similar to the current view. The proposed brine pond site will be visible from NYS Route 14 and NYS Route 14A. The truck transfer facility will also be visible from NYS Route 14A. Potential visual impacts along NYS Route 14 and NYS Route 14A will be mitigated during site development activities through strategic native plantings and seeding at both the brine pond site and the truck transfer facility site. It is not anticipated that the proposed project will result in any significant adverse visual impacts.

Because this describes the more visible brine pond and even this pond’s visibility could be mitigated by planting native trees I conclude that the pond has a negligible impact on visibility.

In summary, the Ball Hill Windpark will be visible from 1/3 of the area within 5 miles whereas the most visible component for Finger Lake LPG Storage can be screened such that there is no longer visible. The compressor station and support building aesthetics impacts cannot be considered to have a greater effect than the access roads, overhead electric lines, switchyard, substation and operations and maintenance building site for Ball Hill Windpark. Nonetheless Commissioner Seggos claims that the gas storage facility has significant adverse impacts on community character.

But it is worse. According to the Ball Hill Windpark 2018 Proposed Modifications Summary of Environmental Impacts:

The new turbine increases by 3 the number of homes that would experience 10-20 hours per year of shadow flicker, and by 23 the number of homes that would experience 40+ hours per year. Of these homes, 11 are project participants. The remaining 215 homes would experience the same or fewer hours of shadow flicker annually as in the 2016 Permit.

There is no equivalent impact for Finger Lakes LPG Storage.

Conclusion

I can only conclude that if the Finger Lakes LPG Storage project has sufficient adverse impacts on community character associated with noise and aesthetics then every wind development project must have a similar adverse impact. The precedent set by this case would seem to preclude wind energy.

New York Codifying NIMBYism

On July 12, 2018, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) Commissioner issued a decision for a proposal to construct and operate a new underground liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) storage facility for the storage and distribution of propane in the town of Reading in the Finger Lakes region of New York. The decision denied the permit applications for the proposed project on the grounds the facility would have a significant adverse impact on community character in the local area and the Finger Lakes region.

This blog supports evidence-based environmental decision making. When infrastructure is proposed it always affects someone who lives nearby. Not in My Back Yard (NIMBY) environmental issues are the reaction of those who don’t want to have any impacts on their personal lives. Because there are no quantitative measures for community character this is an emotion-based decision that sets the precedent that if enough people complain about something in their backyards then the NYSDEC will rule in their favor.

The Project as Described in the Decision

Finger Lakes LPG Storage, LLC originally proposed to build a facility that would store propane and butane in existing solution-mined underground caverns in the Syracuse salt formation. As originally proposed, a maximum of 2.10 million barrels (88.20 million gallons) of LPG in the form of liquid propane and butane was to be stored in the caverns seasonally, displacing some of the brine currently filling them. The stored LPG was to be withdrawn by displacement of propane with brine when demand occurred during the heating season, and displacement of butane with brine during the gasoline blending season.

During storage operations, the brine displaced by LPG or butane was proposed to be stored and contained in two double-lined brine ponds. One 2.25 acre pond would have had a capacity of approximately 0.17 million barrels (7.14 million gallons). The second pond was 6.35 acres, and would have a capacity of approximately 0.80 to 0.81 million barrels (33.6 to 33.9 million gallons)

The facility would connect to an existing interstate pipeline for shipment of LPG into and out of the facility. As originally proposed, LPG was also to be shipped out by truck, and by rail. The original project included the construction of a new rail and truck LPG transfer facility, consisting of a six-rail siding capable of allowing loading and unloading of 24 rail cars within 12 hours, and a truck loading station capable of loading four trucks per hour.

In response to local stakeholders, modifications were proposed to reduce the scale and environmental impacts of the project. The modifications eliminated the proposal to store liquid butane at the facility and reduced propane storage capacity from 2.1 million barrels to 1.5 million barrels; eliminated the project’s rail and truck loading facilities so all deliveries of liquefied petroleum gas would be by pipeline; eliminated one of the brine ponds; and, for lack of a better term offered bribes as they proposed to “provide resources ranging from financial resources to technical resources (mining data) to support community initiatives for the preservation and improvement of water quality in the area, including Seneca Lake”.

Community Character Impacts

The decision discusses community character as follows:

Community character is specifically referenced by the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). SEQRA defines “environment” to include “the physical conditions which will be affected by a proposed action, including . . . existing patterns of population concentration, distribution, or growth, and existing community or neighborhood character” (ECL 8-0105[6]; see also 6 NYCRR 617.2[l]). Unique to each case is the “community” to be evaluated – it will relate to the type of action that is being proposed, the factual circumstances and the nature of the impacts. For some projects, the “community” may be only the municipality in which the proposed action would occur. Here, the interests of a range of communities within the vicinity of Seneca Lake, as in part reflected by the submissions of the Seneca Lake Communities in this proceeding, are clearly relevant to the analysis. The evaluation of community character in this specific matter is not solely limited to the communities (Town of Reading and County of Schuyler) in which the proposed facility would be sited but entails an evaluation of communities in and around Seneca Lake and the Finger Lakes region whose economies and environmental interests are directly intertwined.

So how did the project affect “existing patterns of population concentration, distribution, or growth, and existing community or neighborhood character”? There would have been visible infrastructure. In the original proposal a compressor building, two ponds, a rail and truck loading facility, and I assume some sort of office building with process control equipment but in the revised proposal one pond and the rail and truck loading facility were eliminated. In the original proposal 24 rail cars could have been loaded and moved out within 12 hours and four trucks per hour could have entered and left the facility but the impact of that traffic was eliminated by the applicant’s modifications.

The Community Character section of the decision has to be read to be believed. Excerpts include “impacts to noise and aesthetic resources as revealed on the current record are essential components in the evaluation of impacts on community character in the context of this proposed project.” “The proposed facility with its “industrial” image is seen to be in conflict with the local and regional setting.” Summed up by this: contrary to future progress as planned by local, regional and state officials the project would “overlay an indelible industrial impact on the cultural landscape of Seneca Lake”. The section supports its descriptions of these impacts by referencing a couple of analyses and statements in opposition from local municipalities.

The final plan would have a couple of buildings and a pond, no truck or rail loadings, but would have added a few commuters to the cultural landscape. It is amazing to me how the final decision could conclude that “continuing this proceeding by directing adjudication of issues discussed below would not and cannot overcome the project’s significant adverse environmental impacts on community character.”

Conclusion

Ultimately by this criterion, what could have been built in New York State in the past? Surely the Erie Canal had a significant environmental impact on community character so by this reasoning it would not have been built. The same could be said for any factory, railroad or highway. Apparently the future for New York development is primarily dependent upon social considerations of the local communities and the economic infrastructure in the tourism sector. If the local communities don’t want it in their back yards then it is not going to happen.