City must decide if it will stay in the electric business

By Lynn R. Parks

A report commissioned by the city of Seaford to look at the city's aging power plant is recommending that the city stay in the electric business. "The report said that there is some economic potential out there to be had," said Dave Thomas, the city's director of power. But that does not mean that the 80-year-old plant, which has not operated since December, will be firing up any time soon. Under state regulations that went into effect Jan. 11, the city cannot operate its power plant until it has a plan to reduce pollutants by April 1, 2007. (The law provides for an extension of that deadline to April 1, 2008.) The city does not have such a plan. In a July 11 meeting with John Hughes, secretary of Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the city requested a five-year extension, to 2011, to get the plant in compliance with the new state regulations. In those five years, Thomas said, the city would decide the best way to manage the power plant. "Maybe we will change the location," Thomas said. "Maybe we will change the engines. There are all sorts of things that we can do; these are the kinds of things we will be deciding." But Mark Prettyman, environmental scientist with the Air Quality Management branch of the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said that the state is not inclined to grant an extension without knowing what the city plans to do with the plant. "What they have given us is a very vague proposal," Prettyman said. "We don't feel that we know their path forward. And we can't approve an extension until we know what they want to do." In response to the city's request, Hughes on July 26 sent the city a list of 11 questions, designed to pin the city down regarding its plans for the plant. Thomas said that the city will respond to those questions in a week or two. "This is a lot of data that the state wants, and that means a lot of paper digging," he said. In addition, the length of the extension that the city requested is not sitting well with the state, Prettyman said. "We would like to see this much expedited, as opposed to 2011," he said. The power plant's "pollutant of concern," Prettyman said, is nitrogen oxide, a "precursor," or contributor, to ground-level ozone, the smog that is especially harmful to those with breathing disorders. It is that ground-level ozone that the government is referring to when it issues a high ozone warning. Prettyman said that the new state standard will require that an existing generator operating for non-emergency purposes emit no more than 4 pounds of nitrogen oxide for every megawatt hour of power that it generates. The federal Environmental Protection Agency estimates that engines like those in the Seaford plant have a pollutant load of at least 32 pounds of nitrogen oxide per megawatt hour.

The Seaford plant can generate 7 megawatt hours of power.
"These are very old, very dirty machines," said Prettyman. Seaford's five diesel-powered engines were made in 1958, 1954, 1953, 1939 and 1962. "They are probably even dirtier now than that last measurement," he added. Seaford's plant is also going to have to reduce the carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide that it spews out, as well as particulate matter, the small particles in exhaust that are linked with lung disease. Prettyman said that technology exists that could reduce pollution on Seaford's generators by 90 percent. "Seaford could be brought into compliance with all pollutants, and I believe they could do it by 2008," he said. City power director Thomas said that installing the new technology would cost up to $3 million. "Just possibly, we could get it done in two years," he added. Prettyman also he chastised the city for not having a plan in place to address its power plant. The state has been working on these regulations since the fall of 2003, he said. The city of Seaford "could have already been on their way to retrofitting," he added. Thomas countered that, while the city was involved in the decision-making process from the beginning, it was not until Jan. 4 of this year that it was notified of the final regulations. "This was truly a moving process," he said. "Did we know what the final outcome was going to be in 2003? Absolutely not. In 2004? Absolutely not." Slatcher said that the final decision about the future of the city's power plant will probably take a year or more. It may be something that the city council decides, or "it may be a referendum decision, where the public says yes or no," she said.

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