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Dickenson

JEA: EPA rule would cause ‘chaos’

by Max Marbut, Staff Writer

The Environmental Protection Agency is revising many regulations that affect the operation of utilities.

While JEA, the local public utility, already meets or exceeds the majority of the proposed new standards, one proposal in the pipeline — changing the designation of a solid byproduct of generating electricity with coal — could change the way JEA and other utilities that use coal to generate electricity can do business.

Kevin Holbrooks, JEA director of Laboratory and Water Services, told the public utility’s board of directors Tuesday that the proposal is to designate “coal combustion residue” a hazardous material and place it under federal jurisdiction.

“It would cause chaos,” Holbrooks said.

Under existing regulations, the material is under the jurisdiction of the state and classified as non-hazardous solid waste.

Holbrooks said if the EPA takes over jurisdiction and reclassifies coal combustion residues as hazardous, the material would have to be shipped out of state for disposal because there are no hazardous waste landfills in Florida.

He said there is no guarantee that licensed hazardous materials landfills in other states, Alabama for example, would even accept hazardous waste from Florida.

JEA CEO Jim Dickinson said the disposal issue would be just one of the changes that would be required under the proposed federal regulations.

Classifying coal combustion residues as hazardous also would greatly increase the cost of handling the byproduct within a power plant.

That could include special protective clothing, breathing apparatus and other material-handling issues, he said.

The residual material has come under the scrutiny of the EPA since the contamination events that occurred in Tennessee Valley Authority ash ponds, Holbrooks said. The wet-handled TVA material leaked out of slurry holding ponds and contaminated ground water.

JEA stores its coal combustion residue in a dry state and sells it to a concrete company, which recycles the material by making it part of its product.

Holbrooks told the board the issue won’t be settled for 3-5 years. He said that more than 450,000 public comments were recorded during EPA public hearings on the issue.

EPA also is revising the regulations regarding air quality issues associated with generating electricity, Holbrooks said.

New regulations regarding mercury emissions are scheduled to be implemented in December 2014. Stricter standards for ozone and sulphur dioxide also are expected to take effect over the next few years.

Holbrooks said while JEA “already has pretty clean plants,” the more stringent regulations will likely require the purchase of additional monitoring equipment.

He estimated the cost at $700,000 for additional air quality monitoring equipment at the JEA’s Northside Generating Station along Heckscher Drive.

Another effect of tighter air quality standards could be the necessity of purchasing and using low sulphur content fuels which would “reduce our fuel flexibility,” Holbrooks said.

New regulations regarding power plant emissions crossing state lines were also part of Tuesday’s discussion.

Holbrooks said the “Clean Air Interstate Rule” is no longer in effect in favor of the “Cross State Air Pollution Rule,” which seeks to reduce the amount of particles and ozone crossing state lines by limiting emissions from power plants. The regulation has already entered the courts.

“We don’t think it will survive litigation,” Holbrooks said. “But if it does, we’re in great shape to comply with no capital investment.”

So-called “greenhouse gases” also are on the EPA’s agenda. Holbrooks said new standards for those are delayed until at least 2012 because there currently is no technology available to control carbon dioxide effluent.

Dickenson told the board the new “economic development rates” JEA established Oct. 1 for customers who can have the power intermittently interrupted already are reaping benefits.

The discount rates were sought by manufacturers who use large amounts of electricity and also have the ability to control their peak usage at intervals, allowing JEA to sell them kilowatts when demand within the entire system is low.

Dickenson cited Gerdau as an example. He said since the new rates went into effect, the steel smelting plant has increased from 50 percent of its capacity to nearly 100 percent by transferring work from the company’s other plants to Jacksonville, where the electric rates are lower.

“That’s retaining business and bringing new jobs,” said Dickenson.

The next scheduled meeting of JEA’s board of directors is 10 a.m. Dec. 20 at JEA Tower Downtown.

mmarbut@baileypub.com

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