Small Town News
Willcox opposes EPA plan
The City of Willcox has now weighed in on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed emissions control regulations for three, coal-fired power plants in Arizona.
By unanimous vote Tuesday night, the Willcox City Council expressed its opposition to the EPA's proposed action, which aims to reduce "regional haze."
The agency says this problem is impacting visibility conditions in numerous national parks and wilderness areas throughout Arizona.
The EPA has determined that one of the best strategies for achieving its visibility goal is to require selective catalytic reduction, or SCR, technology on older power plants.
Along with the Apache Generating Station at Cochise, south of Willcox; two other power plants affected by the EPA's proposal are Coronado Generating Station near St. Johns and the Cholla Power Plant near Holbrook.
Combined, the three plants impact 18 of the Class 1 areas the EPA is proposing to protect, including the Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest.
The Apache Generating Station, which is owned by Arizona Electric Power Cooperative (AEPCO) and pro < vides power to most of Cochise County, along with other regions, impacts nine of those areas.
The debate pits economics against a visibility benefit, with AEPCO estimating that the proposed technology could cost as much as $218 million.
"This would translate to nearly a 20 percent hike in AEPCO's wholesale power costs," AEPCO's Chief Executive Officer Patrick Ledger said recently.
"These outrageous costs would be passed on to our distribution cooperative owners and would place an unacceptable burden on their rural con sumer members."
Massive cost increases, he added, will impact the economic viability of Apache's steam units, possibly resulting in a shutdown.
In his Aug. 21 letter to the Council, City Manager Pat McCourt talked about the potential fiscal impact on Willcox specifically.
Information from AEPCO Communications and Public Relations Manager Geoff Oldfather "indicates that this proposed regulation could pass through up to an 18-percent increase in electric rates," he said.
"While the goal of the EPA may be nice," that information "indicates that the results will be at best minimal and the costs very large," McCourt said.
The proposed regulations will have a very large impact on AEPCO "and specifically the Apache Generating Station," he said.
"AEPCO is owned by a group of electric cooperatives, including Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative (SSVEQ, which provides electric power in our immediate area," said McCourt.
"The City of Willcox is a user of electrical power generated at the AEPCO Plant,"
"The direct effect on the City government would be an estimated increase of $51,004 per year in charges paid to SSVEC," he said. "The indirect impact will be much larger as all of the users of electricity from SSVEC will be affected and this will reduce the available income within the economic community."
Information from Old-father included in the Council packet, states that the Apache Generation Station has been part of "a dynamic and ongoing process, with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and the EPA to implement 'low NOx; burner and overfire air' equipment on its two coal-fired steam units to reduce NOx (nitrogen oxide) emissions, which contribute to that the agencies call 'regional haze.'"
In 1989, the station spent $2 million installing low NOx burners, over-fire and underfire air modifications to its Steam Unit 2; then in 1993, an upgraded version of them to Steam Unit 3 at a cost of $2.7 million.
In 2008, the station installed upgraded low NOx burners and overf ire air modifications at a cost, of $3 million for a total of $7 million.
The EPA is "now proposing that the Apache Generation Station be required to install 'selective catalytic reduction' (SCR) technology on its steam units to further reduce already low NOx emissions at a cost estimated by the cooperative of up to $218 million."
The ADEQ "itself a strict regulating agency, has said this prohibitively expensive technology would have an 'imperceptible' impact on regional haze."
Given the prohibitive financial impact of a technology that the ADEQ says is unnecessary, one or both of the station's steam units could "be forced to shut down with the resulting loss of jobs and the ripple effect to the already-depressed regional economy."
Oldf ather told the Council at its Sept. 4 meeting that annual operating and maintenance costs of SCR technology would be almost 30 times the annual margins of Arizona's G&T Cooperatives.
"We are not opposed to regulation," he said. "We are opposed to regulations designed to put us out of business."
Oldfather said that he hoped the EPA "would allow us to move forward with the State implementation plan."
He also explained that "regional haze" is measured in "deci-views," and that "the human eye cannot discern a deci-view."
City Councilman Earl Goolsby said that as a teacher, "Over the last 13 years I've taken a class out to the (Chiricahua) National Monument. The Park Ranger who conducts the hike literally points out the mountain peaks in Tucson."
"It is one of the most pristine areas in the county notwithstanding you guys," said Goolsby, adding, "That's why astronomers go to Massai Point."
While the EPA is proposing to approve a portion of Arizona's emissions control plan, the agency wants more limits on nitrogen oxides, of NOx emissions, said Colleen McKaughan, EPA associate director of regional air quality.
She said recently that it's the NOx emissions technology that is sparking the debate.
NOx emissions at the Apache Generating Station are 4,700 tons/year and that none of the three facilities are equipped with adequate technology to control NOx emissions, McKaughan said
Comments from the EPA hearings and public comment period, which extends through Tuesday, Sept. 18, will be reviewed and a decision regarding the EPA's proposal will be made based on the information gathered, McKaughan said.
The EPA is still in the process of collecting public input and will consider economic impacts and other concerns that have been raised before making a final decision.
Comments can be sent to www.regulaions.gov or by going to the EPA website, www.epa.gov/region9/air/actions/littleaz.html#all.
For those who would prefer to write to the agency, correspondence should be sent to: Thomas Webb Air-2; Air Division Planning Office; U.S. EPA; 75 Hawthorn St.; San Francisco, CA 94105.
The deadline for final EPA action is Thursday, Nov. 15.
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