KU agrees to pay $300K for air-quality violations

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By Phyllis McLaughlin

Kentucky Utilities has agreed to pay $300,000 in fines to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act at its Ghent Generating Station.

The settlement, filed Dec. 20, also requires KU to pay up to $500,000 to complete a mitigation project, which will involve converting an elementary school in its service area from a coal-burning furnace to geothermal technology.

According to Jason McDonald, a spokesman from the EPA’s Office of External Affairs in Atlanta, Ga., no school has yet been selected for the project. In an e-mail sent Monday, Jan. 7, McDonald said Mount Vernon Elementary School in Mount Vernon, Ky., near Berea, is the first to express interest in the project.
KU notified of violations in 2007, 2009

According to a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court’s Eastern Division of Kentucky on Dec. 20, the EPA had filed notices of violation against KU in 2007 and 2009 after tests conducted on units 1-4 at the coal-fired electric-generating plant exceeded the amount of sulfuric acid mist emissions allowed by federal law. KU also allegedly failed to obtain the required permits for installing controls required by the Clean Air Act to reduce the emissions, as well as a required operating permit for the Ghent Station.

According to the EPA’s complaint, Clean Air Act regulations enacted in 1982 stipulate that emissions from existing heat exchange units, like those used at the Ghent plant, may not exceed 40 percent opacity, with the exception of a limit of 60 percent opacity during three- to six-minute intervals for maintenance, such as cleaning flues and grates or building a new fire. New heat exchange units may not exceed 20 percent opacity at normal operation and 27 percent during six-minute intervals per hour, as needed, for the maintenance tasks.

Ghent unit 1 is defined as an existing heat exchange unit; units 2-4 are defined as new units.
From 2007 through 2009, KU installed wet flue gas desulphurization devices on units 2-4; after each device was installed, the company switched to using coal with higher sulfur content, which the EPA alleges allowed the emission of more than 7 tons of the pollutant each year from each unit – a violation of the Prevention of Significant Deterioration of Air Quality standards.

According to the EPA, tests at Unit 3 exceeded allowable emissions from May to September 31, 2007, with six-minute intervals registering averages as high as 92 percent opacity.  Sulfuric acid mist controls also failed during that time period, the EPA states in the document.

The EPA complaint states that KU faced “civil penalties of up to $32,500 per day for each violation occurring after March 15, 2004,” for each unit found in violation.

KU accepts settlement, but officials deny wrongdoing

In the Consent Decree, negotiated by EPA and KU officials to resolve the issues in the EPA’s complaint, KU officials agreed to the settlement but deny that the company violated the Clean Air Act and maintain that the Ghent station has been and remains in compliance with state and federal air-quality statutes.

In addition to the $300,000, KU is required to conduct monitoring of each of the units, reduce sulfuric acid emissions and comply with stringent regulations on emissions. KU also must adhere to a strict schedule of reporting emissions and completion of improvements to the EPA, or face additional fines of $1,000 to $10,000 per day, depending on the number of days KU remains in violation and the severity of the violation.

Public invited to comment

The public is invited to examine the Consent Decree at the U.S. Department of Justice’s website – www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html – or write to Consent Decree Library, U.S. DOJ-ENRD, P.O. Box 7611, Washington, D.C. 20044-7611, to receive a copy by mail for a cost of $13.25. Checks or money orders must be payable to the United States Treasury.
Comments must be mailed or e-mailed by Jan. 26, and must refer to United States v. Kentucky Utilities Company, D.J. Ref. No. 90-5-2-1-08850/1. Send e-mail comments to pubcomment-ees.enrd@usdoj.gov or mail comments to the attention of the Assistant Attorney General at the address given above.