Power plants must have a mercury reduction strategy now

Despite the regulatory uncertainties, it's essential power plant operators put in place both short-term and long-term plans to deal with mercury emissions and the accompanying wastewater treatment technologies that may be required. This is the advice provided by the McIlvaine Company in "Power Plant Air Quality Decisions," a subscription service offered by the provider of strategic market analysis...

NORTHFIELD, IL, Feb. 23, 2006 -- Despite the regulatory uncertainties, it's essential that power plant operators put in place both short-term and long-term plans to deal with mercury emissions and the accompanying wastewater treatment technologies that may be required. This is the advice provided by the McIlvaine Company in "Power Plant Air Quality Decisions," a subscription service offered by the provider of strategic market analysis.

There are three main reasons why it is so important to have a plan in place:

Requirements for reduction are likely sooner rather than later. Mercury reduction is best accomplished in conjunction with other pollutant removal. The cost of making a poor choice or of inaction is potentially substantial.

Requirements for reduction are likely sooner rather than later.

Pennsylvania just proposed mercury rules with a shorter time frame for compliance than the federal "Clean Air Mercury Rule" (CAMR). A few weeks ago, Illinois proposed rules which necessitate immediate implementation of projects in order to meet the 2010 deadline. A number of other states are moving forward with their own rules which are more stringent and involve shorter periods for compliance than CAMR. Projects take several years to implement properly. Fast track projects are prone to higher cost and poor choices.

This risk is compounded by the shortage of supply. Scrubber projects are now stretched to three or four years instead of two years due to inability of suppliers to meet demand. Companies with multiple units need to stagger installations over several years to minimize electricity production impacts.

Mercury reduction is best accomplished in conjunction with other pollutant removal, as pointed out in Table 1. Some of those also address water treatment issues such as removal of contaminants from flue gas desulfurization (FGD) wastewater.

The co-benefits of removing mercury in SO2 scrubbers or in baghouses which also collect the particulate have been demonstrated. In fact the Pennsylvania proposed rule is based on maximizing the co-benefit. Therefore, a power plant may decide to scrub earlier than originally planned in order to achieve the mercury reduction.

A power plant faced with upgrading a precipitator or replacing it with a baghouse could find that the baghouse is the better choice because of its mercury removal advantages. If the power plant proceeds with the precipitator upgrade, it may find its mercury removal task much more expensive.

The cost of making a poor choice or of inaction is potentially substantial.

The biggest cost risk is inability to operate the plant. Several coal-fired plants have been unable to operate recently because of excess emissions. Fines and other penalties are also a threat.

The cost of allowances is likely to be very high. A safety valve of $35,000/lb of mercury is incorporated into CAMR. The average 300 MW power plant emits 100 lbs/yr of mercury. If it had to buy 30 pounds each year for several years, the cost could exceed $1 million annually.

If a hurried decision results in a poor choice of technologies there are a number of costly possible results. Injection of the wrong sorbent can result in contaminated flyash. Flyash sales generate significant revenue for some utilities. High maintenance and downtime can result from plugging of air heaters or particulate control equipment. Efforts to adjust mercury control equipment can reduce electricity generation. Switching to higher cost coals may be needed.

The McIlvaine Company (www.mcilvainecompany.com) is based in Northfield, IL, with a staff of 35 people that includes engineers, scientists and market researchers. On its website, McIlvaine offers a new section regarding a FGD Decision Treeand a New Regulatory Approach to Power Plant Air Pollution Control that includes a Mercury Discussion Group.

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