Homer City plant to get new pollution controls

$700M investment could help it meet air regulations

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The Homer City coal-fired power plant in Indiana County, one of the biggest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the nation, is planning to add up to $700 million worth of pollution controls that its owners say will enable it to meet future federal and state air pollution control regulations.

Edison Mission Energy, a subsidiary of California-based Edison International, confirmed Wednesday that it is seeking state environmental permits and raising capital to install emissions controls on two of three units at its 1,884-megawatt power plant. A third unit at the plant, located 50 miles east of Pittsburgh, already has controls.

Charley Parnell, an EME spokesman, said the company has applied for state Department of Environmental Protection permits and is raising money for the project. If successful at both, he said, construction will begin in April and finish in 2014.

The company did not issue a release about the pollution control work but revealed its plans at a community meeting for Indiana County residents Monday evening.

"We wanted to let them know what was going on and what to expect. We're doing this to improve the air emissions from Homer City and to ensure the long-term success and continued operation of the facility," Mr. Parnell said Wednesday.

The power plant, built in 1969 and purchased by EME in 1999 for $1.8 billion, is a "base-load" facility that generates enough electricity for 2 million homes. It employs 265.

The pollution controls should significantly reduce emissions of mercury, sulfur dioxide and airborne particles or soot that have earned the Homer City Generating Station a prominent spot on many top 10 pollution lists, including a designation last year as the seventh-dirtiest power plant in the nation.

A third, newer, unit -- built in 1977 -- had similar pollution controls installed a decade ago that reduced emissions of sulfur by 84 percent, mercury by 90 percent and soot by 57 percent, the company said.

In January 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency filed a federal lawsuit against EME and its eight limited-liability corporate owners and prior owners of the power plant, claiming it had operated for decades without required federal permits or adequate pollution controls, and that its approximately 100,000 tons of sulfur dioxide emissions a year made it "one of the largest air pollution sources in the nation."

The lawsuit was dismissed in October by U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry, who ruled that because of a "nearly two-decade delay in enforcement" the statute of limitations had expired on many of the pollution violations.

Although some coal-fired power plants are switching to natural gas for fuel, Mr. Parnell said such a conversion isn't a good option for the Homer City plant, in part due to the volatility of natural gas prices, which are low now but could increase.

"Homer City is an economic engine for Indiana County," he said, citing jobs at the plant, in the mining industry and trucking.

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983. First Published January 12, 2012 5:00 AM


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