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Power Plants - Frequently Asked Questions

Between 1998 and 2004, Virginia had an increase in the number of new power plants being proposed and built. These power plants will provide both peak demand and base load electricity generation. DEQ has devoted and will continue to devote significant time and effort in assuring these power plants are built in accordance with all environmental regulations and do not endanger the health and well being of citizens or cause harm to the environment. This fact sheet addresses some of frequently asked questions the DEQ has received on these new plants.

Q. What is a peak demand power plant?

A. The new and proposed peak demand power plants use simple-cycle turbines that burn natural gas to produce electricity. They are called peak demand because they only operate when there is a high demand for electricity that cannot be met by the existing power plants. An example of when this may occur is during a hot day in the summer when most people are using air conditioning.

Q. What is a base load power plant?

A. The new and proposed base load power plants use combine-cycle turbines that mainly burn natural gas to produce electricity. Unlike the peak demand units, these units are used as the sole provider of electricity for customers. As part of the deregulation of the electric generating industry, customers, industrial and residential, will be allowed to choose the provider of their electricity. These units are being built to meet the future demand for electricity and to provide a choice for consumers.

Q. Where are these plants being built?

A. Most of these plants will be located where large capacity power lines and gas pipelines cross or are close in proximity to each other.

Q. Are these facilities regulated by DEQ?

A. Yes. DEQ implements regulations that limit the amount of air emissions a plant is allowed to release. DEQ also regulates any direct water discharges that result from a new plant. DEQ is responsible for ensuring the health and welfare of both citizens and the environment are protected. DEQ is not authorized to make decisions concerning zoning, aesthetics, the need for a power plant, or the level of noise that may be caused by the plant.

Q. What will be the health impact of peak demand power plants to the people living around the facility?

A. DEQ has the responsibility of protecting the health of citizens of Virginia. As the permit applications for peak demand power plants have been received by the DEQ, careful evaluations have been conducted. When a permit application is submitted for a plant, an air quality modeling analysis is required. This analysis determines the impact the plant will have on the air, and, thus the potential impacts on people living around the facility. DEQ is requiring a modeling analysis for all of these plants even though, by regulation, modeling is not required for minor sources. To date, none of the modeling analyses has shown a significant impact on the air.

Q. How are the environmental impacts of base load power plants determined?

A. Base load power plants must undergo an extensive environmental review. The air quality modeling analysis for these units are complex and the strict federal Prevention of Significant Deterioration regulations apply. PSD regulations ensure that there is no significant worsening of the air quality.

Q. Why don't peak demand power plants undergo the more strenuous federal PSD review?

A. The applicability of PSD regulations is dependent on the amount of emissions a source has the potential to emit. Base load power plants often exceed the threshold value of emissions that makes PSD regulations applicable. The peak demand units only operate when needed and their potential for emissions is usually significantly smaller than the emissions thresholds triggering PSD applicability. However, as stated above, DEQ does require a peak demand plant to perform a modeling analysis although this is not a regulatory requirement.

Q. What does DEQ review in a permit application?

A. The permit application must contain all the necessary information demonstrating that the plant will meet all applicable requirements. If the DEQ perceives the application as incomplete, then more information will be requested from the plant. The processing of a permit does not begin until the plant has supplied all necessary information and the application is deemed complete.

Q. Can the DEQ place a moratorium on the issuance of permits to power plants?

A. No. DEQ does not have the legal authority to impose a moratorium on the issuance of permits for power plants.

Q. Can the DEQ issue a permit to a new power plant prior to the company getting zoning approval from the local municipality?

A. No. Before receiving a permit from DEQ, the plant must complete a form, signed by the local zoning authority, stating that the proposal is consistent with local zoning requirements.

Q. What prevents the peak demand power plants from running all year?

A. Permits issued by DEQ contain limits on the number of hours a peak demand unit will be allowed to operate. DEQ also limits fuel throughput and emissions as well. Plants are required to keep records on the amount of time the unit is running and the DEQ inspects the plant to ensure they are in compliance. If a plant exceeds its permit limits, enforcement action may be taken against the plant.

Q. What pollutants do these new power plants emit?

A. The pollutants emitted by these plants are the pollutants emitted when natural gas is burned. The pollutants that will be emitted in the largest amount are nitrogen oxides also called NOx. Other pollutants emitted, but in lesser amounts, include carbon monoxide, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and sulfur dioxide. Most of these plants will be controlling their NOx emissions through the use of "selective catalytic reduction." The level of NOx and the other pollutants are anticipated to be low enough to not have a significant impact on air quality.

Q. Peak demand power plants will mainly be operating in the summer when ozone levels are highest. How can the DEQ allow a new power plant to be located in an area, such as Northern Virginia, which currently is nonattainment for ozone?

A. There has been a great deal of progress in improving the air quality in the Virginia ozone nonattainment areas over the last several years. The number of days that Northern Virginia exceeds the ozone standard has dropped, and the DEQ is continuing to implement measures to further reduce the levels of ozone. Although these new plants will be emitting NOx, which is a precursor to the formation of ozone, the overall amount of NOx being emitted in an area will decrease due to programs that are currently in place and other programs, such as the federal NOx SIP Call, which will be implemented in the near future.

Q. Does the DEQ regulate noise levels from these plants?

A. No. DEQ has no authority to control noise levels from a plant. Several localities do have ordinances regarding noise control. Check with your locality for any ordinances in effect.

Q. Will these plants burn any fuels other than natural gas?

A. Some of these plants will have the ability to burn distillate fuel oil if, for some reason, natural gas is not available. The amount of distillate fuel oil a plant is allowed to burn is limited in the permit.

Q. Where can I go for more information about these new and proposed power plants?

A. DEQ has established a web site on power plants containing a more complete description of the permitting process, air quality modeling assessment, the potential location of these plants and other useful information.

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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