The power plant proposed for the Rio Grande Industrial Park completed one of the many steps required for permits Monday as the State Environment Department’s Air Quality Bureau completed its hearing in the late hours.

The permit for a simple-cycle natural-gas-fueled electricity-generating plant proposed by Peoples Energy was scrutinized by scientists and citizens alike for eight hours in a hearing held at the Belen City Hall by the state agency.

The purpose of the hearing was for the staff of Cabinet Secretary of Environment Peter Maggiore to review the findings of the Air Quality Bureau’s modeling to ensure that the data provided by Peoples Energy in its permit request was correct.

Data regarding the quantity of air pollutants, which would be produced by the proposed plant, was reviewed by engineers for the power generating company, state permit office and a group of Valencia and Socorro County citizens.

Company engineers showed that levels of particulate material smaller than 10 microns are estimated at .79 micrograms per cubic meter when the Environmental Protection Agency standard of significant levels is 5.

Doug Huxley, the engineer consultant for Peoples Energy, said a wood-burning stove produces 3 micrograms per cubic meter.

The company’s data also showed the estimated levels of carbon monoxide will be 155 while the EPA model is 2,000. Huxley compared this to a wood stove producing 510.

The oxides of nitratesare estimated at 0.1 while the significant level is 1.0.

The State Air Quality Bureau’s atmospheric dispersion modeling expert, Dave Dubois, said his findings, after modeling the data presented in Peoples Energy permit request,were similar to the company’s.

He computer-modeled the plant on the proposed site with data for a year of operation and determined “there would be less-than-significant levels of pollutants emitted by the plant,” thus complying with all state and EPA standards.

Citizens present questioned the method of modeling and the quality of its findings because of data used for the weather conditions.

According to Dubois, the best weather data available is the National Weather Bureau figures for the area, which are obtained at the weather station at Albuquerque International Airport, 30 miles north of the proposed site on the east mesa of Valencia County south of Rio Communities.

Rio Communities resident and former State Representative Ron Gentry questioned the validity of these figures for the proposed site by saying the weather conditions at his home, which is within two miles of the proposed site, historically do not have the same wind currents and temperatures as reported in Albuquerque.

“I wish the state would take the necessary year to gather the weather information from the proposed site before making its decision, which will affect the air quality of this area for the next 50-plus years,” Gentry said.

A citizens group had hired engineer Bill Powers of Powers Engineering in San Diego, Calif., to review the data. Powers testified and argued that the data presented by Peoples Energy left out the impact of the start-up and shut-down of the peaking power plant.

The proposed plant would only be operated when peak use of electricity required a need for additional electricity in the western region grid, from which New Mexico and the middle Rio Grande valley get their electricity.

With the 300 start-ups and shut-downs proposed by Peoples Energy, Powers said the impact on the amount of emitted pollutants dramatically increased because the proposed General Electric turbine generators produced higher levels when operating at less than 50 percent capacity.

“The significant hazardous air pollutants for single elements is 10 tons per year for single elements, and 25 tons per year for combined elements,” Powers said. “The formaldehyde emissions from the proposed generators without 300 start/stops is five tons per year, but with 300 start/stops my calculations show that it would be 36 tons per year, which is over the 25 ton limit.”

The citizens’ engineer proposed two options to reduce these potential levels.

“Option one is to reduce the start/stop to 50 or less per year,” he said. “The second option is to add an oxidation catalyst which would reduce these levels.”

During the rebuttal by Peoples Energy engineer Doug Huxley, he pointed out that EPA standards, by federal law, did not require the start up and shut down emissions to be included in the permit data.

Huxley also argued that the data provided by Powers exaggerated the amount of time the plant would be operating under 50 percent of full load.

“It is our estimate that the plant will operate at such levels for six minutes during start up and shut down,” Huxley said.

State Environmental Engineer Richard Goodyear recommended that a paragraph be added to the permit which required Peoples Energy to test its emission during the initial start-up of the plant to determine the level of pollutants during the warming up of the generators. With this information, the state could then set the number of times the company could operate the power plant per year.

The hearing, which began at 3 p.m. Monday, concluded at 12:30 a.m. Tuesday with hearing officer Felicia Orth saying she will review the information presented and a report will be presented to Maggiore in the next 30 days.

At that time, Maggiore has 30 days to reply if the permit will be given.

Orth also said this was just one of many permits required by Peoples Energy before it could build a power plant.

It also has to be reviewed by the state engineer’s department for water use and impact.

Peoples Energy also has to receive permission from the Valencia County Commission for proper zoning of the site.

Commissioner Frank Pando told the power company it had “put the cart before the horse” by applying for state air quality permits before seeking approval by the county commission.

The Rio Grande Industrial Park is zoned I-3, which is for heavy industrial use. A power plant would fall under that description, however, Ruben Chavez, enforcement supervisor for the county planning and zoning department, said the site design would have to be reviewed for a building permit.

“Environmental issues are looked at during the design review,” Chavez said on Tuesday. “It is the discretion of the county commission whether a building permit has to be approved by them.”

Pando and Commissioner Alicia Aguilar were among the 150 citizens present during the eight-hour hearing.

The general consensus of the citizens present was that they do not want a power plant to be built at the Rio Grande Industrial Park.

Geno Santisteven, resident and manager of Sud-Chemie Performance Packaging, summarized the citizens’ concerns into three areas — noise, water consumption and air pollution.

Since the hearing was just on air pollution issues, Santisteven held his comments to that area.

“The engineers have told us the risk is small, but it is still there,” he said. “It is a question of risk vs. returns. Is the potential health hazard worth the returns?”

Engineers from both the state and Peoples Energy said a person could stand beside the power plant property fence their entire life and not receive a significant level of pollutants that would cause health problems during normal operation.

“One area I’m concerned about is the level of sulfur in the natural gas. While the gas is monitored for the sulfur level, what if a high level slips through and it is burned, thus producing a higher level of pollution?” Santisteven said.

Santisteven said the returns could be stability of electrical power for the area, revenue to the county through taxes and gross receipt taxes, and 150 jobs during construction and 10 permanent jobs during operation.

A few citizens said they felt it was needed for the area to progress and for economic development to happen in the area and state.

“New Mexico and Valencia County have had constant growth over 30 years. We are not going to stop growth. Because of that growth, we are eventually going to need more power plants,” Belen resident James Lynch said.

“California didn’t want more power plants, and now they are being held hostage by the electricity wholesales since deregulation. I don’t want us to experience the same things such as brown and black outs, and high prices. This is clean technology and should be allowed to come in.”

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Jane Moorman