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Air Board Again Denies Mirant Stack Merge Request

Governor signs contract to prevent electric grid overload

Once again, the State Air Pollution Control Board declined to issue, for public comment and consideration, the permit for a two-stack merge requested by Mirant. Instead, the Board directed the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to prepare and issue a "synthetic minor" New Source Review (NSR) permit which allows a stack merge without additional operating restrictions but that caps emissions.

The decision to issue a synthetic minor permit — which is more limited and targeted than a comprehensive permit — took place at the Board's Nov. 30 meeting in Newport News. Although it was a regularly scheduled Board session, the Mirant issue was added at the last minute following the Nov. 19 DEQ meeting at Lee Center in Alexandria. Air Board members were instructed, allegedly by their General Counsel, not to attend that meeting under the rationale that it was "not a public hearing" by DEQ definition. Several Air Board members arrived in Alexandria on Nov. 19 but were advised to leave before that meeting commenced.

The late addition of Mirant to the Nov. 30 meeting caused city officials to scramble in order to have a presence. City Attorney Ignacio Pessoa and William Skrabak, Environmental Quality division chief for the Transportation & Environmental Services Administration, represented Alexandria in Newport News.

"The agency's (DEQ) presentation to the Board acknowledged the inadequacy of their own draft permit, which they had initially tendered to the board in October. The clear direction from the Board to DEQ vindicates the City's comments to date, that the stack merge can proceed only with a properly structured NSR permit," Pessoa said.

"With respect to events surrounding the Nov. 19 hearing in Alexandria, Board members acknowledged that they would have been well advised to have remained and participated in the hearing as initially intended. They publicly committed to conducting future hearings in person and in Alexandria," Pessoa said.

As for Mirant's reaction to the Board's decision, "We are pleased that DEQ recognizes the value of the stack merge. But we are going to wait and see how the DEQ permit is structured," said Debra Bolton, vice president and assistant general counsel, Mirant

ON NOV. 29, Elizabeth Chimento, one of the initial investigators of Mirant's Old Town Alexandria Potomac River Generating Station (PRGS), wrote a letter to DEQ Director David Paylor chastising the State agency for accommodating Mirant by refusing to issue a synthetic minor NSR.

"Clearly, accommodating Mirant is not a proper basis for a DEQ determination," she stated in her letter. "Further, the DEQ's refusal to put forward a synthetic minor, as the Board requested (at its Oct.10 meeting) is an act of insubordination. I ask you to insist that the DEQ provide a synthetic minor, as the Board originally requested and deny the two stack merge permit the DEQ substituted," Chimento wrote.

Following the meeting Chimento sent out an email explaining the Board's Nov. 30 actions. As she explained in that email, the forthcoming draft permit "is not the original two stack merge but one that includes ... operating limits based on NSR results and holds emission limits to national standards." She also stated "It is too soon to tell what the permit will look like."

Coincidentally, on Dec. 3 and 4 Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kane (D) issued press releases pertaining to two developments in electric power transmission and distribution within the Commonwealth. Both could have an impact on the Mirant situation.

On Dec. 3, he announced "Virginia has entered into a contract with EnergyConnect that will improve the reliability of Virginia's electricity grid and will provide payments for reducing the load on the grid. The program will benefit all citizens of the Commonwealth by reducing the need for electrical utilities to build additional plants, transmission, and distribution lines."

The contract is structured to reduce demand on the grid "during times of peak electrical load." An organization such as EnergyConnect "works with the electric utility and the Regional Transmission Organization" to make "more electricity available to homeowners and reduces the need" for electric utilities "to start additional generating units," according to the news release.

On Dec. 4, Kaine issued at statement concerning the U.S. Department of Energy's decision to re-examine creation of a National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor, which includes a large area in Northern Virginia.

"Earlier this year, the Attorney General and I wrote to DOE, requesting that they not override our state-level process for making determinations about where to locate power lines, and in November, we filed an Application for Rehearing. I was pleased by the news that the DOE has granted that rehearing. It is my hope that they will honor the historic and traditional right of the state to make those decisions," Kaine stated.

Both of these actions could impact the Alexandria Mirant situation. The EnergyConnect contract is aimed at preventing an electricity reliability shortfall in times of high demand. That potential lack of reliability has been a major argument put for by Mirant and its supporters as one justification for the plant’s continued existence.

However, in the case of the power lines traversing Virginia, the non-construction of those line could work to the benefit of Mirant's PRGS by reinforcing their argument for electricity reliability into the overall grid. How and where those lines are constructed has also placed Alexandria in juxtaposition with the Sierra Club and some of its other allies in the Mirant struggle.