California gas-fired power plants get emission waivers

California Gov. Gray Davis issued an executive order late Monday that allows gas-fired power plants to operate additional hours beyond the limits set for environmental reasons.

The order will help eliminate the need for backup generation from diesel-fired generators during times of electric emergencies, said Kellan Fluckiger, energy adviser to the governor in a conference call.

“There are 1,200 Mw of gas fired generation in the state that have these limits,” said Fluckiger. “Relaxing these limits will help us get through the summer.”

The compromise with state and federal environmental authorities allows the gas-fired plants to operate during Stage 2 and 3 power emergencies without risk of penalties even if air permit say they shouldn’t. The trade off means emissions will be reduced because diesel-fired generators actually pour out four times more nitrogen oxide that a typical older plant emits, said Katherine Witherspoon of the California Air Quality Board.

“Older gas fired plants emit from 2-5 lb/Mw-hr,” said Witherspoon. “Diesel generators spew out 20-32 lb/Mw-hr.”

The gas-fired plants can now continue operating beyond their limits helping to prevent blackouts and also supporting transmission reliability in certain regions which also reduces the chances of a blackout, said Fluckiger.

The plants will pay an environmental mitigation fee of $7.50/lb/Mw-hr under the order. Federal and state environmental authorities have agreed to this arrangement exempting the facilities from lawsuits or penalties that might result from operating beyond the approved hours.

David Wiggs of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said the municipally owned utility has as much as 1,000 Mw with restrictions on run time. “This had to be resolved for us to offer any more excess power to the state,” said Wiggs.

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