The state has issued an air quality construction permit to Valencia Energy for an electric power generation plant in the Rio Grande Industrial Park southwest of Rio Communities on NM 304.
New Mexico Secretary of Environment Peter Maggiore signed a final order issuing the permit for the natural-gas-fired turbines project proposed by People’s Energy Resources Corporation.
The facility would be a merchant power plant, which markets the power through the Western electrical grid, as well as a peaking power plant, providing electricity when other producers cannot meet demand. The facility’s operating schedule will be based on market demand for power.
The state’s Air Quality Bureau supported approval of the permit, which allows construction and initial operation of the 280-megawatt plant with conditions necessary to protect human health and the environment.
An air quality analysis found that all impact from the facility would be far less than the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, according to an environment department press release.
“The proposed turbines would meet the standards for nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide,” the environment department’s press release said. “As permitted, the facility would be a minor source for hazardous air pollutants, mainly formaldehyde, and will require continuos emissions monitors for nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide.”
The permit allows for operation of the plant for one year, during which the company must apply for a regular operating — or Title Five — permit from the environment department. The department said it may hold a public meeting or hearing during the Title Five permitting process, if public interest warrants it. An acid rain permit will also be required from the department.
An air permit public hearing was held on April 8 in Belen. More than 165 people attended the hearing and raised concerns about air pollution, thermal pollution, light pollution, water consumption and noise.
During that hearing, an engineering expert testifying on behalf of local citizens raised concerns about formaldehyde emissions during the turbine’s startup and shutdown.
“The significant hazardous air pollutants for single elements is 10 tons per year for single elements and 25 tons per year for combine,” said Bill Powers of Powers Engineering, at the time of the hearing as reported in the News-Bulletin’s April 10 issue. “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.”
These concerns were taken seriously by the environment department during the permitting process, according to Richard Goodyear, permit program manager for the environmental department.
“We spent a lot of time on that issue,” Goodyear said in a telephone interview. “Peoples Energy has said that the manufacturer guarantees the levels of hazardous emissions, but they have not produced the documentation. Ultimately, we imposed additional monitoring.”
The Air Quality Bureau recommended additional permit conditions requiring Valencia Energy to test for formaldehyde during the initial startup and shutdown testing of the turbines, to then determine emissions, and calculate the number of startups and shutdowns that could occur without exceeding the thresholds. That limit would then become an enforceable part of the permit.
This recommendation was imposed as a condition in the final order, with the flexibility that the company might be able to obtain, prior to construction and operation of the plant, manufacturer-guaranteed emissions levels in lieu of the testing.
“We are pleased to get the state environment department’s air quality construction permit for the Valencia Energy Facility,” said Cameron Epard, director of the power generation division of Peoples Energy Resources. “We have satisfied the environment department’s requirements for protection that the plant will be protective of human health and the environment.”
Appeals against the permit can be made by participants in the process, including those who either sent written concerns to the Air Quality Bureau or spoke at the public hearing in Belen on April 8. Appeals must be made to the New Mexico Environment Improvement Board by Aug. 16, 30 days after the permit’s issuance.