BATON ROUGE, Louisiana, November 29, 2012 (ENS) – Louisiana’s biggest illegal air polluter has agreed with the federal government to the largest Clean Air Act settlement ever filed in Louisiana.

Louisiana Generating, an electric utility owned by NRG Energy, has agreed to settle decade-old charges and meet the U.S. EPA’s new Mercury Air Toxics Standards by cutting emissions from its Big Cajun II coal-fired power plant in New Roads.

Big Cajun II

Louisiana Generating’s Big Cajun II coal-fired power plant (Photo by Scott Mosher)

The company will spend $250 million on upgrades that are expected to eliminate over 27,300 tons of air pollution every year.

In addition, the company is required to pay a civil fine of $3.5 million and spend $10.5 million on environmental mitigation projects under a proposed settlement with the U.S. EPA and the Department of Justice, lodged last week in federal court in Baton Rouge.

The State of Louisiana joined in the settlement and will receive $1.75 million, one-half of the $3.5 million civil penalty.

“The Big Cajun II Power Plant is the largest source of illegal air pollution in Louisiana,” said Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

“This settlement will secure substantial reductions in harmful emissions from the plant, which will have a beneficial impact on air quality for residents of Louisiana and downwind states, including low-income communities who have been historically overburdened with pollution,” Moreno said.

Louisiana Generating will achieve these reductions through a combination of new pollution controls, natural gas conversion, and annual emission caps at all three units at the Big Cajun II plant.

“Louisiana Generating will install modern air pollution controls that will significantly reduce harmful emissions and also will perform environmental projects that will conserve energy,” Moreno said.

Big Cajun II was developed and built by Cajun Electric Power Coop and acquired by NRG in May 2000 after CEPC declared bankruptcy. Louisiana Generating upgraded the burners and fuel that reduced nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions at the power plant by a third.

“We are very proud of the work we have done to reduce emissions at Big Cajun II over the decade we have owned the plant,” said Jennifer Vosburg, president of Louisiana Generating. “We are equally proud of the work we will do over the next three years to make Big Cajun II even cleaner.”

To meet EPA’s new Mercury Air Toxics Standards that take effect in April 2015, Louisiana Generating will convert one of the three units at the plant from coal to natural gas, eliminating virtually all mercury and particulate matter from the unit’s emissions. The company will install activated carbon injection on another unit and upgrade the electrostatic precipitators.

“This conversion will allow us to meet new EPA regulations as we see greater diversity and flexibility in our ability to meet the power needs of our customers on the hottest and coldest days,” said Vosburg. “All plants across the nation will have to meet these new EPA requirements and through this natural gas conversion, we have selected the route that ensures our co-op customers will benefit from cleaner and more diverse power as they continue to enjoy electricity costs that are among the lowest in Louisiana.”

The company settled decade-old charges by the EPA and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality for work done by the previous owner of Big Cajun II by installing new equipment to control NOx and SO2 emissions.

For its environmental mitigation projects Louisiana Generating will:

  • Install solar photovoltaic panels at local schools, government-owned facilities, or buildings owned by nonprofit groups
  • Restore and protect land, watersheds, vegetation, and forests
  • Fund creation of one or more charging stations for electric vehicles in the South Louisiana area that are powered by zero emission renewable energy sources
  • Mitigate nitrogen loading in the False River, which will have the co-benefit of reducing phosphorus loading and preventing harmful algal blooms
  • Conduct energy efficiency projects, which could include voltage optimization, residential energy efficiency, and assistance with commercial or industrial energy efficiency improvements

Louisiana Generating will also pay $1.5 million to the State of Louisiana to implement projects which could include: retrofitting vehicles with pollution controls, truck stop electrification, purchase and installation of photovoltaic cells on buildings, building energy conservation and efficiency, buyback programs for dirty old motors, and removal or replacement of oil-fired home heaters with ultra-low sulphur oil and outdoor wood-fired boilers.

The settlement marks the federal government’s 24th settlement under its national enforcement initiative to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review provisions that require power companies adding new sources of electricity to install the latest pollution reduction equipment.

“This settlement continues our important enforcement initiative to reduce harmful illegal air pollution from the largest sources of emissions,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Pollution from these sources can cause severe respiratory and cardiovascular impacts, and EPA is committed to making sure that they all comply with the law.”

The settlement is lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana is subject to a public comment period and final court approval.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.