by Linda Maule
YARMOUTH – The Natural Resources Council of Maine is joining local residents who oppose FPL Energy’s request to relax its nitrogen oxides limit at Wyman Station on Cousins Island.
Nitrogen oxides are created at Wyman Station when the oil-burning plant creates electricity. The nitrogen oxides combine with other pollutants to increase the ozone level, which makes the air unhealthy to breathe, especially for people who suffer from respiratory problems.
FPL Energy has asked the state Department of Environmental Protection to recommend to the state Board of Environmental Protection that it amend FPL Energy’s licensing requirement for an emission standard agreed to in 2002.
When the state adopted its emission regulations about five years ago, it targeted an emission rate of nitrogen oxides at 0.15 pounds per million Btu (British thermal units).
Al Wiley, a Maine spokesman for the Florida Power & Light Co., one of the world’s largest producers of electricity, said Tuesday that FPL Energy has brought its rate down from 0.27 pounds per million to 0.19 pounds per million. Last December it applied for a 0.18 limit.
Wednesday, Sept. 14, was the deadline for anyone who wanted to comment on FPL Energy’s request.
“We’ve been operating that technology (that the state approved in 2002) for the better part of a couple years, and despite our best efforts we still can’t get to the 0.15 rate,” Wiley said.
He said Wyman Station is the only plant affected by emission rules set by the state before 2002, even though the plant emitted fewer pollutants than other power plants. “The rule was geared more towards power plants of a certain size,” Wiley said, adding that “some of these were located outside the non-attainment area, such as in Rumford.”
And in other states, he said, plants could buy air emission allowances from other places. “Maine is not in that program,” he said.
Wiley said the only technology that would have been able to get that rate down would have cost FPL energy between $30 million and $50 million. That was “far too expensive to give the level of reduction one would see from Wyman,” he said. “The (BEP) recognized that.”
He said the company was told then that if it installed the technology approved by the department and showed it was “doing the best you can with the technology installed,” it could come back and request an alternative emission limit.
That’s what the company is doing, he said.
But Pete Didisheim, Natural Resources Council advocacy director, Tuesday said “we strongly believe that all in-state sources of pollution need to be meeting the best emission controls possible. We are not convinced Wyman Station has achieved that level of performance.” He said the NRC is requesting a public hearing on the issue before the DEP makes a recommendation to the BEP.
“We’ll be opposing their request to relax the emission rate,” Didisheim said. “We believe there’s additional opportunity for the Wyman facility and FPL to reduce air pollution, and we are not convinced DEP has done the level of rigorous analysis they said they would.”
He said the difference in what FPL Energy is requesting and the state standard “is the equivalent of thousands or tens of thousands of vehicles being removed from the road.”
Ed Simmons, who lives on Cousins Island, and has been a leader in demanding more stringent controls at the plant, said members of the Cousins Island Association were assured in 2002 that the plant could meet the 0.15 Btu standard.
“We’re very disappointed with Maine DEP. They assured us that these standards would be met, and now that they’re not being met, rather than holding FPL accountable, they’re saying ‘no, we’ll relax the standards,’” Simmons said Tuesday.
“We say if it’s a good standard, then why not ask them to stay with the standard and ask them to meet the standard. Clearly, FPL is a profit-oriented company, and they’re not going to do things they’re not going to have to do,” he said.
“It’s not as if they can take their plant and move out of state,” Simmons continued, adding, “they’re here, and we have to ask them to meet the standards of our state.”
Simmons agreed that “they’re fairly close to meeting the standards,” but he compared meeting the standards to a person passing a driving test or a medical doctor passing the medical boards.
“If we care about the health of our citizens, we can’t say they’re good guys, they tried …,” he said.
David Adams, another resident of Cousins Island, believes that FPL Energy should be required to meet the 0.15 Btu emission standards. “We’ll hold their feet to the fire,” Adams said. “It’s a huge corporation, investing millions and billions in other states. Our little state wants more attention.”
About 20 people met with DEP officials and FPL Energy officials Aug. 30, but Didisheim, who was at that meeting, said residents want a public hearing on the issue.
The plant will operate with the interim limit of 0.19 pounds per million Btu, until the BEP acts on the pending request. The BEP is made up of 10 board members, all appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.
The DEP is expected to make a recommendation later this fall or this winter.
In addition to the Wyman Station plant, FPL Energy owns two dozen hydro-electric plants in Maine, on the Kennebec, Saco and Androscoggin rivers.
Wiley described the Yarmouth plant as a peaking plant, used primarily in the winter and in July and August. The use has varied from year to year, however, Didisheim points out.
He said the NRC wants to discuss the standard with FPL.
“There are ways to move forward,” Didisheim said, “keeping the standard in place.”
Linda Maule can be reached at email@example.com