Increasing Compliance Pressure Placed on Electric Utilities

U.S. electric utilities are feeling more pressure to stay on top of environmental compliance and provide transparency for their compliance status.

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U.S. electric utilities are feeling more pressure to stay on top of environmental compliance and provide transparency for their compliance status. Regulatory agencies want to ensure environmental obligations are being met and many consumers prefer to buy from environmentally responsible companies.

While much of recent media attention has been on air programs like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in the Northeast and California’s landmark global warming legislation, compliance pressures also extend into water programs. Utilities are required to file Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMRs) to environmental agencies and publicly owned treatment works (POTWs), and they need to ensure they’re adhering to stormwater pollution prevention plans (SWPPP) and spill prevention control and counter measures (SPCC) plans.

Many utilities have begun managing their water programs and all compliance requirements together, in one system. San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) implemented a compliance management system during construction of its Palomar Energy Center. The facility is a 550 megawatt combined cycle power plant that produces 45% more electricity than older facilities using the same amount of natural gas. Recognizing the complexity of this facility’s requirements, SDG&E committed to demonstrating compliance transparency for not only environmental, but all its regulatory obligations.

These obligations are beyond anything that could be managed with checklists and spreadsheets, and SDG&E wanted more capabilities than typical environmental management information systems (EMIS) offer. The utility had a number of system requirements, including on demand internet access, flexible reporting, seamless upgrades, self-administration with permissions and rights for users, and integration with a data historian and an SAP application.

After extensive study of market alternatives, SDG&E selected the Enviance System based on a Software-as-a Service (SaaS) model for managing its requirements. SaaS is a model of software delivery where the software company delivers its application directly to the desktop of the user over the Internet without needing to install additional hardware or software on the user’s side. The system is the market’s only compliance management solution utilizing the SaaS model, meaning it’s purchased on a subscription basis depending on what’s needed at the time and scaling depending on fluctuating growth of the operation.

Implementation and training at SDG&E were completed in less than four months, just in time for the facility to come online in March 2006. Water technicians and environmental specialists, as well as maintenance and operations personnel, learned how to streamline processes by tracking data in the new, fully automated system.

An electric generation facility deals with many regulatory agencies demanding compliance for even more requirements. SDG&E uses Enviance on a daily basis to track tasks and incidents, as well as pull reports and perform internal audits for air, water, waste, land planning and natural resources, transportation licenses, safety, training, and energy related requirements for the:

  • California Energy Commission,
  • Department of Energy, and
  • California Public Utilities Commission

Because the system has been used since inception of the Palomar Energy Center, SDG&E doesn’t have to worry about lost or missing data. Everything is stored in a central location, available to help assure compliance with a few clicks of the mouse. The organization has all the necessary tools to demonstrate compliance transparency, even as legislation changes and requirements become more complex. Its system will evolve to meet current needs and assure compliance for future growth.

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About the Author: Greg Gasperecz is vice president of environmental, health and safety at Enviance Inc. Before joining it in 2000, he was assistant secretary for Air Quality and Radiation Protection at the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, worked in the Emission Standards Division of EPA’s Office of Air Quality, and ran his own consultancy. Contact: 760-496-0200 or www.enviance.com

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