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September 9, 2009 > Public hearing for Russell City Energy Center

Public hearing for Russell City Energy Center

By Simon Wong

Image courtesy of BAAQMD

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), the regional agency chartered with protecting air quality in the Bay Area, held a public hearing on the Russell City Energy Center at Hayward City Hall on September 2. The Air District will consider all comments to determine the issue of a revised Federal Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) Permit for the proposed power plant.

Houston-based Russell City Energy Company, LLC, a Calpine Corporation affiliate, plans to build the facility, aka the Calpine Energy Center, at 3862 Depot Road. It will be a 600 megawatt, natural gas-fired, combined-cycle energy plant consisting of two gas turbines, two heat-recovery steam generators (waste heat boilers), a single steam turbine, a cooling tower and a diesel emergency fire pump engine.

Two major environmental permits are needed - a Federal PSD Permit and a license from the California Energy Commission (CEC). According to BAAQMD analysis, the project satisfies permit requirements.

The Air District published a draft permit in December 2008 but revised it with tougher provisions for air quality following a public hearing held in January 2009. Revisions have been available for public review and comment since August 3.

The permit determines what can be built, how the plant should be operated, sets emissions limits and imposes conditions to ensure compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency's Federal PSD Program under the federal Clean Air Act. A pre-construction review of proposed industrial facilities applies in areas that are in attainment of National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or unclassified. It also ensures new emissions will not cause a significant deterioration in air quality.

The facility must employ the best available control technology (BACT) to minimize emissions with reference to economic, energy efficiency and environmental impacts. Emissions will be monitored regularly to demonstrate compliance and subject to remedial enforcement action for exceeding emissions limits which have been reduced since the first public hearing. Limits have also been set for start-up and shutdown of the plant.

Carbon monoxide and precursor organic compounds emissions will be reduced and more than 90 percent of nitrogen oxides will be removed from the exhaust stream. Using clean-burning, low-sulfur, natural gas will minimize particulate matter (soot) and sulfur dioxide emissions. A drift eliminator in the cooling tower will further reduce soot emissions. The EPA-certified diesel fire pump engine is the cleanest of its size available.

Closure of other power-generating facilities will offset the proposed plant's nitrogen oxide and precursor organic compound emissions. The CEC requires the proposed energy center to implement measures to reduce particulate matter emissions in the surrounding area.

A Risk Management Plan and implementation of a Risk Management Program are required to prevent accidental release of ammonia during use and storage.

Calpine has agreed to the Air District's proposal to cap greenhouse gas emissions so that the permit satisfies PSD requirements should such emissions be subject to future regulation.

BAAQMD's analysis of the impact on air quality and public health concludes "emissions will not cause a violation of the ambient air quality standards for nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and carbon monoxide; there will be no significant impact to visibility, soils or vegetation; there will be no significant impacts within Point Reyes National Seashore, the only Class I area within 100km of the plant; the facility's toxic emissions have an associated 0.7 per million-cancer risk which is less than one in a million and, therefore, not considered significant for project permitting purposes."

Supporters of the proposed Russell City Energy Center were conspicuous by their absence with a few exceptions, giving the floor to the opposition.

Arguments focused on environmental and health issues but some mentioned insufficient jobs, lack of sufficient economic benefit, green policies environmental racism and violation of City's sustainability policies.

Others recalled a former need for an energy plant because of California's 2000-01 energy crisis. Federal regulators intervened in June 2001 and energy output now meets demand in California.

"The Calpine power plant has been controversial since it was proposed in 2001 and when certain members of the now-sitting Hayward City Council approved it in 2002. Calpine had to move its original location to another site. Calpine went bankrupt in December 2005 and some of the controversy died down until the company emerged from bankruptcy in January 2008," stated Audrey Lepell, President, Citizens Against Pollution.

"In the meantime, another facility, named Tierra or East Shore Energy Center, wished to build in Hayward's industrial area but the City denied its application as did the CEC.

"Many organizations, elected officials, Hayward citizens and others continue to oppose this project because of the toxic air contaminants, sometimes called 'TACS,' in the plumes discharged from the 14-15 story twin towers and the very nature of such large structures adjacent to the Salt Harvest Preserve, the expansive Hayward Shoreline, the nearby Hayward Executive Airport and the reduction of air quality throughout the East Bay," Lepell explained. "The permitted emissions would raise asthma rates for children, respiratory failure rates for seniors and cancer rates for all."

Hayward Area Recreation & Park District (HARD), the Sierra Club, the Hayward Area Shoreline Planning Agency's citizens' advisory committee, consisting of HARD, the East Bay Regional Parks District and City of Hayward, and Chabot College oppose the power plant.

"The proposed permit is faulty on numerous levels and shouldn't be approved. The Bay Area is already a non-attainment area for ozone and particulate-matter pollution... The Air District conducts an erroneous BACT analysis regarding carbon dioxide emissions and relies on outdated information," Congressman Pete Stark has stated previously.

"Science changes daily. Every day, new information emerges... we didn't know DDT would contaminate food, second-hand smoke is a danger to others, plastic bottles are a hazard for children and babies must sleep on their back. A car parked outdoors needs washing after three days. This project isn't good for health, contributes to global warming and, whilst it may provide jobs and the revised PSD permit requires reduced emissions, we can't see the air contaminants. Chabot College and a residential community are nearby. The plant wouldn't serve Hayward well. The technology must change so whatever we do doesn't exacerbate global warming," stated Alameda County Supervisor Gail Steele. "I feel that you can't say unequivocally this won't harm health."

There are public declarations of support for the Russell City Energy Center.

"As a physicist with NASA and the Lawrence Livermore Lab, I studied climate change starting in the 1970s. I support the project because it will preserve Hayward's air quality, while replacing power generated from plants that produce nearly twice the greenhouse gases and up to ten times the amount of other pollutants," - Councilman Bill Quirk.

"This is an important project for the City of Hayward. We're proud to support a project that is not only environmentally responsible but also makes a significant investment in Hayward," - Jim Wieder, President & CEO, Hayward Chamber of Commerce.

"Russell City Energy Center also saves energy. This highly efficient plant will use 40 percent less natural gas than older plants operating in other parts of the Bay Area." - Former Councilman Bill Ward.

The City receives about 16 percent of every property tax dollar paid and about nine percent of the sales tax dollars generated in Hayward. The projected property tax revenues of $4M are based on a $400M assessed facility. Some estimate the assessed value will be higher and generate about $1M per annum for the City.

One-time monies include sales tax revenue of $2.7M (based on nine percent) and a $10M contribution, due once concrete construction begins as per Calpine's agreement with the City, towards a new municipal library.

650 jobs are expected at the peak of construction but it is unclear how many would be taken by Hayward residents. Looking ahead, there will be operational jobs for plant employees and external contractors as part of the $3.5M spent annually on plant maintenance and operations.

Submit written comments by September 16, 2009 to Mr. Weyman Lee, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, 939 Ellis Street, San Francisco, CA 94109 or by email to weyman@baaqmd.gov

For more information, visit www.RussellCityEnergyCenter.com and www.baaqmd.gov



Annual limits, reduced from the maxima in the initial draft PSD permit (in brackets), on the emission of air pollutants:
Nitrogen Oxides: 127 tons (134.6 tons)
Carbon Monoxide: 330 tons (389.3 tons)
Precursor Organic Compounds: 28.5 tons
Particulate Matter: 77.8 tons (86.8 tons)
Sulfur Dioxide: 12.2 tons

Emissions would include certain toxic air contaminants
Ammonia: 15.2 lb/hour or 121,000 lb/year
Benzene: 0.0284 lb/hour or 226 lb/year
Formaldehyde: 1.96 lb/hour or 15,600 lb/year
Diesel particulate matter: 0.0740 lb/hour or 4 lb/year
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: 0.00021 lb/hour or 1.8 lb/year

The project's Statement of Basis contains a complete list of toxins.

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