$100 million power plant cleanup wins Gainesville OK


Published: Friday, January 6, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 6, 2006 at 12:30 a.m.
Gainesville Regional Utilities will spend more than $100 million reducing pollution from its coal-fired power plant, meeting federal requirements to cut emissions years before they go into effect.
The Gainesville City Commission on Thursday night unanimously approved the project, which will retrofit the utility's Deerhaven II power plant with new pollution-control technology. While the work will slash emissions of mercury, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide up to 90 percent, its cost will boost GRU customers' electric bills.
Customers could see a 3 percent to 4 percent increase in rates each year from 2007 to 2010, said Chip Allen, the utility's assistant general manager for energy supply.
"Unfortunately when you have a $100 million expense, there's a cost associated with that," he said.
Federal regulations require phased reductions in emissions to be completed from 2015-2018, but GRU will meet those limits five to eight years in advance. The retrofit means if the utility builds a proposed coal-fired plant, the Gainesville area will still see reductions in the total amount of certain pollutants from today's levels.
The retrofit project must now be awarded to a contractor that receives the commission's final approval, which is expected to happen in September. Construction is planned to begin next year and be completed in 2009.
The project will lower levels of certain pollutants that impair air quality and harm human health. Mercury, a neurotoxin that impairs brain development, will be cut 75-90 percent. Nitrogen oxides, which form acid rain and ozone, will be slashed 87 percent. Sulfur dioxide, which also forms acid rain and causes lung problems, will be reduced 90 percent.
David Harlos, a local air-pollution consultant, praised those reductions but said the project does nothing to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which cause global warming.
"It totally ignores carbon dioxide," he said.
Commissioner Warren Nielsen said he was also concerned about global warming, but the project did the best at reducing other emissions within the current technology.
"What we're doing is making the best of what we have," he said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced last March that utilities must dramatically reduce certain pollutants, but GRU's plan reduces emissions faster and by a greater amount than required. That will allow the utility to take advantage of new emission credits for utilities exceeding regulations.
Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan said selling those credits could help offset expected increases in utility bills.
The project will be financed through bonds. It was originally slated to cost $90 million, but a nationwide push for more power plants is increasing the expected cost of materials.
The retrofit uses several different technologies to remove pollutants. Ammonia would be used to break down and remove nitrogen oxides. A lime and water mixture will be sprayed on emissions, causing a reaction that removes sulfur dioxide and mercury. A fabric filter would reduce particulates.
Residents won't see new smokestacks and likely won't notice changes to the look of the plant, Allen said.
"It's not like the skyline will be changed dramatically," he said.
Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 352-338-3176 or crabben@gvillesun.com.

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