Monday, July 30, 2012

Ex-mayor weighs in on Drake

Posted By on Mon, Jul 30, 2012 at 11:18 AM

Former Mayor Lionel Rivera wrote a letter yesterday to City Council about Councilor Tim Leigh's allegations concerning Drake Power Plant. Makes a person wonder where Leigh is getting his information. Since Rivera debunks Leigh's comments one by one, we'll just get out of the way and pass on his letter in full. Rivera served as mayor from 2003 to 2011.

Colorado Springs Utilities Drake
  • Drake Power Plant

Esteemed Council Members,

I write you today to give you the facts regarding the previous City Council’s decision to move forward on the Neumann Systems Group scrubber technology for the reduction of SOx and the decision not to provide funding for vigorous testing of NOx and CO2 reduction. I will also address directly Council Member Leigh’s contrived information from an unnamed source. I was there at the time and have a clear recollection of what occurred.

Council Member Leigh states the following in a newsletter he publishes;

· I was told Drew Rankin brought Neumann forward “as someone with new technology that could save CSU millions in compliance costs by solving the 3-fold emissions problem generated by Nitrogen Dioxide, Sulfur Dioxide and Carbon Dioxide (SOX, NOX, CO2).”

The Neumann scrubber technology was brought to the previous board as a possible alternative to conventional scrubber technology that would need to be installed at Drake to lower emissions of SOx and possibly NOx in order to comply with new EPA regional haze standards in the Rocky Mountain region of the United States. While the technology may also have had the potential to scrub CO2, it was not a consideration for full testing and evaluation unless Congress changed the law or the EPA promulgated a rule to limit CO2 emissions. Congress could never get a simple majority in the Senate to change the law and the EPA did not promulgate rules requiring our power plants to reduce CO2.

As briefed by CSU staff, the technology had the potential to accomplish the scrubbing with lower upfront capital cost, lower ongoing operational cost, and a much smaller footprint. Both Drew Rankin and Tom Black were excited about the potential for this technology.

A second quote from Council Member Leigh;

· Neumann’s scrubber’s original intent was grande and its promise bold. Imagine a 3-fold solution to environmental regulation compliance at a discount. Unfortunately, something happened on the way to the Forum.

As I stated in the previous paragraph, the board was not looking for a three fold solution, but a solution to meet the future regional haze standard with the best value, reliable technology in order to save rate payers the sizeable rate increases needed to pay for conventional scrubber technology.

A third quote from Council Member Leigh;

· I was told that while the idea worked in the lab, it failed in field testing. Yes, it solved the SOX problem but it did not solve the other 2 problems. Based on those tests Rankin (the father of the original conversation) recommended killing-the-baby. Apparently, at the time there were 48 other existing technologies that solved the SOX problem with less capital cost.

As briefed to us by CSU staff, the Neumann scrubber technology met our testing requirements in all phases of testing. Funding of full scale commercial testing of NOx and CO2 emission reduction was never a proposed by staff nor would it have been approved by the board since Nixon and Drake met the proposed NOx regional haze standard with their current technology and there was no CO2 standard to mitigate.

Niether Drew Rankin nor other members of CSU staff never recommended to kill the Neumann SOx scrubber nor are there 48 other existing technologies that solved the SOx problem with less capital costs. To the contrary, CSU staff worked with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to allow them to complete the 20MW test of the Neumann scrubber system so it could be used on Drake and Nixon if successful. Below is an excerpt from the Colorado Regional Haze State Implementation Plan dated January 2011 Appendix C, Drake Power Plant

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment - Air Pollution Control Division

The Division conducted site visits and determined:
• Unit 5
o CSU determined dry FGD controls are technically feasible although available
physical space was severely constrained and some demolition and site reconfiguration
would be required; the Division conducted a site visit and determined that dry FGD
controls were not appropriate considering the space constraints, shown in Figure 1
and Figure 2. Therefore control effectiveness and impacts for dry FGD are not
evaluated in this analysis.
o Traditional wet FGD controls are possible considering that there is adequate space
near the baghouse to allow for the installation of controls, but is being eliminated
based on other considerations within the five factors (i.e. energy and non-air quality
impacts). Refer to the energy and non-air quality impact section for the Division
review regarding wet FGD controls for Unit 5.

• Units 6 and 7
o Dry FGD controls are technically feasible for Units 6 and 7.
o Traditional wet FGD controls are possible considering that there is adequate space
near the baghouse to allow for the installation of controls, but is being eliminated
based on other considerations within the five factors (i.e. energy and non-air quality
impacts). Refer to the energy and non-air quality impact section for the Division
review regarding wet FGD controls for Units 6 and 7.

It is worth noting that CSU-Drake is currently testing a new, innovative non-traditional wet scrubber control system that appears to be as effective, if not more effective, at controlling SO2 emissions with much less pressure drop (less parasitic load from increased fan demands) and requires a much smaller operational foot print area in comparison to traditional wet scrubbing. The pilot-scale wet scrubber control system, called the NeuStream-S FGD process, is presently being tested on a 20 MW flue gas stream. CSU anticipates scaling the non-traditional wet scrubber control to full scale pending successful outcome of the current testing. This new wet scrubber technology uses a unique contacting vessel that makes it different from traditional wet scrubbers. It affords a higher liquid to gas contact ratio and so uses much less water / has lower
pressure drop. It also uses a dual alkali system that is somewhat unique when compared to most traditional wet scrubbers. In comparison to traditional wet and LSD scrubbers, this new technology will have smaller water and energy requirements. There are several non-air quality aspects of the NeuStream-S process that compare favorably to traditional scrubbers, described in Step 4. Regarding the applicability of the NeuStream process to Drake Unit 5, the Division notes that this technology is not commercially available at this time. CSU has not determined if this technology is feasible for this smaller unit. However, the Division will re-assess this technology in the next Regional Haze planning period.

Although the technology being tested by CSU does not technically meet the definition of
“available” as set forth in the BART rules, the Division is willing to allow CSU the opportunity to prove the technology and if successful, the opportunity to install the NeuStream-S FGD scrubber. This process will be required to meet the emission limits established for the LSD technology established in this BART determination. Regardless of the technology utilized, Drake has to meet the LSD-based BART limits within 5 years of EPA approval of the BART SIP. CSU will test the NeuStream system until December 2011, and at that time, determine the control technology that will be used to comply with the specified SO2 BART limits for Units 6 and 7.
You will also find this language in the Nixon power plant appendix.

And finally from Mr. Leigh;

Then politics entered the arena when Lionel Rivera pushed for a continuation of the project, expressing emotion over empiricism and reason, on the high notion that if the scrubbers worked, (even, if only at the SOX level), CSU should continue making an investment (venture capital funding), “go into business” with Neumann, sell the work-product, create jobs and experience a windfall. And while that sounds just great, there is seems to be a problem. . . we don’t have any customers. So the story morphed from “being a job generation machine” to being a “mere compliance mechanism.”

As I stated before, the goal of the Board and CSU staff was to meet the new regional haze standard with the most cost efficient reliable technology. The NeuStream process met that criteria empirically as briefed to us by CSU staff. I was and still am a supporter of the NeuStream system. I spoke highly of what we were doing at CSU with my fellow Mayors at the US Conference of Mayors Energy Committee meetings.

CSU staff had already developed a revenue sharing concept with Dr. Neumann when the technology was introduced to us and the board supported the concept. If the technology becomes commercially viable outside of CSU there will be some revenue sharing with CSU and it should help mitigate future electric rate increases and create a primary manufacturing employer in Colorado Springs.

At the time we made the decision to move forward with the NeuStream process the idea of decommissioning Drake was never on the table. The cost to decommission, reclaim the site, and acquire more electric power from Front Range and/or the spot market or longer term contracts made that decision extremely expensive and would have required much larger rate increases than investing in new scrubber technology. I would imagine that from a cost standpoint it is still better for rate payers to keep Drake. From what I read in the Gazette it appears the conversation has turned more political and aesthetic and is less about what the cost is to rate payers. I support your last decision to move forward with the NeuStream System. If you choose to study it more, CSU has the capabilities to give you the estimates you need for decommissioning cost and reclamation of the site, and they are the experts for projecting future electric costs without a Drake power plant. I hope you don’t spend $500,000 for information CSU staff should be providing to you.

If you’re not getting the information you need in a timely fashion and the detail you require then hold the CEO accountable. We had the same challenge when I chaired the board. It will take more of your time to get the detail you need and dig into it, but we the rate payers need that kind of leadership to protect our interests.

Council Member Leigh please disclose who are the “folks who were present at the time” who gave you your misguided information. You owe it to your colleagues so they can verify your version of history.

Good luck in your deliberations.

Lionel Rivera

We've asked Leigh to react to the letter. If and when we hear something, we'll post his response.

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