PUC members face complaints
(The Denver Post) — A former state senator has filed ethics complaints against two Colorado Public Utilities Commission members with a state ethics panel.
Andy McElhany said in an ethics complaint dated Wednesday that the natural- gas analytics company Bentek Energy reimbursed PUC chairman Ron Binz for travel costs to a symposium in Houston in June, months before the PUC considered two utilities’ plans to replace some coal-fired plants with natural-gas-fired ones.
In a separate complaint, McElhany said Commissioner Matt Baker was reimbursed by a company owned by the Spanish government for a trade mission to Spain in November. McElhany said the state constitution bars public officers from accepting anything worth more than $50.
Binz and Baker said the Department of Regulatory Agencies approved the trips.
Story at a glance
• The Air Quality Control Commission approved Jan. 7 a plan for new emission control technologies at Tri-State Generation & Transmission’s Craig Station.
• Craig Station is one of 16 power-generating facilities in the state to be part of a plan to comply with an EPA regional haze reduction program.
• Tri-State officials support the plan, but are unsure of its cost and haven’t finalized a construction timeline for the controls.
• The statewide plan reduces nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions combined by about 71,000 tons per year and affects 29 power generating units in the state.
• The plan will go before the state legislature for approval before it is sent to the EPA. However, Tri-State officials doubt the plan will be changed before moving onto the EPA.
A plan for new emission controls at Tri-State Generation & Transmission’s Craig Station has taken another step toward implementation.
Paul Tourangeau, Director of the Air Pollution Control Division, said the Air Quality Control Commission unanimously approved a plan Jan. 7 for the coal-fired Craig Station to comply with Environmental Protection Agency’s regional haze program. The 60-year federal program aims to reduce visibility impairments in the country’s national parks and wilderness areas, he said.
Craig Station was one of 16 facilities across the state to be part of the state’s regional haze implementation plan, which affected 29 power-generating units. The statewide plan, Tourangeau said, reduces nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions by about 71,000 tons per year.
“It is a very comprehensive and thorough regional haze (plan) that the state expects will … protect visibility in our pristine air sheds in the state of Colorado,” he said. “(It) will avoid EPA from imposing a federal implementation plan itself on the various facilities in the state of Colorado.”
In mid-December, the AQCC was faced with making a decision between two emission-reducing technologies with different price tags and each supported by two different sides of the issue — Tri-State and a coalition of environmental groups.
Instead of installing a certain technology on all three of Craig Station’s units, the AQCC approved a compromise, of sorts, between both technologies.
The plan would install cheaper selective non-catalytic reduction technologies, or SNCR, on units one and three at Tri-State and install the more expensive selective catalytic reduction technologies, or SCR, on unit two, he said.
Tri-State originally supported installing the SNCR technologies that would have equipped the Craig Station with about $40 million in upgrades and would have reduced nitrogen oxide emissions by about 15 percent.
However, the environmental coalition asked that SCR be installed, which could have reduced nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent. That technology came with a $660 million price tag.
Several Moffat County residents traveled to Denver in December to support installing the SNCR technologies at the plant.
Tri-State spokesman Brad Jones said the company and other owners of the Craig Station all support the hybrid technology plan.
The cost of the plan, Jones said, is not yet known.
“We haven’t gotten that far yet,” he said.
Jones said the implementation plan will go to the state legislature this session for approval, and will then be sent to the EPA. The agency has up to 18 months to rule on it.
Jones said the chances the state legislature would change or modify the plan are “pretty slim.”
“But, I can’t speak for the EPA,” he said.
Tri-State hasn’t formalized a construction timeline for the controls yet, Jones said.
“But, certainly it would need to be in place before the goals of the first phase of the regional program need to be met,” he said.
How the company will recover costs from the upgrades is also unclear, Jones said.
“Once we determine costs and begin construction, then obviously those types of costs are inserted into our annual budget and when an annual budget is decided upon and finalized, then that decides how rates are impacted,” he said.
Tourangeau said the plan meets EPA requirements for regional haze reduction.
“It is probably the most significant air (pollutant) reduction program the state has pursued in, I’d say, probably in the recent 20 years,” he said. “It is a significant reduction of pollution to improve our air sheds and the visibility in the state, but it also has (several) collateral benefits.”
One of the collateral benefits of the state’s plan is that the amount of nitrogen oxide, which is a “significant contributor to ozone,” will be reduced.
Tourangeau said the EPA is encouraging all other states to submit similar regional haze reduction plans.
“(For) those states that are failing to put these plans into place, the EPA is imposing federal implementation plans on them,” he said.
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