Governor Mark Gordon signs order to temporarily prevent the Jim Bridger unit from being closed | Energy journal
The time for Block 2 of the Jim Bridger Power Plant has expired.
After state and federal officials failed to establish updated emissions control standards for the unit before the December 31 compliance deadline, Governor Mark Gordon signed a temporary emergency suspension order to keep the unit operational for an additional four months under the Clean Air Act .
If the dispute is not resolved by April 30, or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan declines the extension, Unit 2 must be closed. Unit 1 could suffer the same fate next December.
An analysis by University of Wyoming economics professor Timothy Considine estimates that the abrupt closure of Unit 2 would cost the state $ 33.2 million in annual tax revenue and cut 404 full-time jobs across the country. Of these job losses, 327 would occur in Sweetwater County, of which 65 were in the power plant, 108 in coal mines and 154 in adjacent industries.
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The governor’s office hopes it doesn’t come to that.
“I am very optimistic that we can reach some kind of agreement,” said Randall Lüthi, Gordon’s Chief Energy Advisor. “We just don’t know yet.”
Jody Ostendorf, Congressional and Intergovernmental Liaison for EPA Region 8, wrote in an email to the Star-Tribune that “the EPA intends to submit a proposed decision on this plan revision for public comment in the near future,” and said that Agency is “not” in a position to comment on this impending measure or a possible legal dispute over the regional haze plans of Wyoming. “
US coal-fired power plants must limit their emissions of nitrogen oxides, or NOx – harmful air pollutants that cause respiratory diseases and environmental damage. Wyoming’s plan to retrofit its coal-fired power plants with emission controls was approved by the EPA in 2014.
At the Bridger plant, however, the cost of reducing NOx emissions proved to be a significant hurdle. The operator Rocky Mountain Power installed the necessary technologies in units 3 and 4, but since units 1 and 2 are to be converted to natural gas peaking systems in 2024, the energy provider considered the emission control to be uneconomical. In 2019, Rocky Mountain Power developed an alternative: reducing the units’ electricity production in order to reduce their NOx emissions to an acceptable level.
“We still believe this plan satisfactorily meets regional haze requirements and is a solid plan, both in terms of compliance with the regional haze rule and cost to consumers,” said Dave Eskelsen, a Rocky Mountain spokesman Power.
State regulators agreed; The EPA also seemed to be on board. Wyoming submitted its alternative plan for federal approval in May 2020. But the agency didn’t finalize the change until President Donald Trump stepped down, and after the EPA reevaluated the proposal by Biden, it informed Wyoming in June that it wouldn’t take further action on the plan.
“It was just very disappointing and a bit confusing,” said Lüthi. “EPA was with us the whole time – until they weren’t anymore.”
According to Lüthi, the EPA does not yet have to communicate its objections directly to the state.
“You never gave us reasons why it just doesn’t work – why it doesn’t comply with regional vapor guidelines,” said Lüthi.
In Tuesday’s email, Ostendorf gave two such reasons.
“The state’s revision would remove long-standing requirements that the Jim Bridger Power Plant install modern controls to limit its visible and noxious nitrogen oxide pollution and is not going to work [Rocky Mountain Power’s] current plan to convert Jim Bridger Units 1 and 2 to natural gas in 2023, ”wrote Ostendorf. “Accordingly, the 2023 date is currently not enforceable by state or federal haze plans.”
Conservation groups, meanwhile, say the plan is based on misleading assumptions that lead to invalid conclusions. A public comment submitted to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality in 2019 – when existing permit restrictions were already limiting the facility to 84% of potential capacity, according to WyoFile – argues that the alternative plan assumes the four Bridger units are operating at maximum capacity it is overestimated how much the NOx emissions would be reduced.
Run down the clock
The governor’s office anticipates three possible outcomes in the next few months.
It’s been six weeks since Gordon sent a strongly worded letter to the agency urging regulators to approve the state’s plan and warning that Wyoming would sue if no action was taken in the next 60 days. During this time, Lüthi said, negotiations continued, but nothing was resolved.
Ideally, the state and the EPA will reach an agreement before the end of April, he said. But if the EPA rejects Wyoming’s proposal, it must explain its reasons, which could allow the state to change the plan accordingly.
“Then at least we have some information to talk to them about,” he said. “I hope this opens the door for negotiations further.”
If the two parties can’t reach an agreement and the EPA fails to act, the state can enforce and sue Gordon’s November 15 threat.
At least for the time being, Bridger Unit 2 remains in regulatory limbo. Eskelsen declined to speculate on what Rocky Mountain Power would do if it closes, but stressed that the proposed move to natural gas will require months of permits and planning. Such closures are economically sensitive to fee payers and cannot be taken lightly.
“When we remove a network resource from the transmission network, we always have to do this with a certain amount of foresight and planning,” said Eskelsen. “It’s not something the company would normally do. And that’s also why we hope for a solution to this problem, because the proven supply practice requires a very conscious approach. “
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