BPA: Boiler MACT ruling threatens biomass industry

By Lisa Gibson
Posted June 8, 2010, at 3:12 p.m. CST

If the most recently released EPA ruling regarding the Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology passes as is, it will devastate the biomass power industry, as it would require expensive alterations at virtually 100 percent of existing facilities, according to Bob Cleaves, CEO and president of the Biomass Power Association.

A 45-day comment period on the new ruling opened June 7 and Cleaves has been inundated with concerns from the biomass industry. Under the new standards, biomass boiler units conventionally considered multi-fuel boilers would instead be classified as incinerators and subject to new emission limits for five pollutants: mercury, hydrogen chloride, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and dioxin, according to the BPA. The limits for dioxin alone are more than 100 times more stringent than medical waste incinerator dioxin rules. No existing biomass facility meets all the proposed limits, according to the BPA.

"The early indications are that the standards, using existing technology, are unachievable," Cleaves told participants in a June 8 media conference call on the matter. The rule would be expensive to comply with and would cost the forest products industry $7 billion, Cleaves said. "If it passes, we'll lose ground," he said. "Plants will close."

If biomass plants close, the agricultural, wood and other residues used at those plants would in many cases be openly burned, causing air pollution vastly in excess of the EPA's ruling, Cleaves emphasized, calling it an obvious and sad consequence of the ruling. "This rule is unfortunate and inconsistent with the administration's stated goal of supporting biomass," he said. Cleaves added that the BPA is more than willing to work with the EPA in developing health-based, rational and achievable standards.

When asked how the ruling would affect plants slated for operation in the next couple years, Cleaves was less than hopeful. "I have received universal feedback from my members that if enacted as proposed, it would halt development," he said. One e-mail Cleaves shared during the call predicted a "mass exodus from biomass" to natural gas if the rule passes.

Although Georgia Power does not know yet how the proposed rule would affect its plans for converting Plant Mitchell near Albany, Ga., to a 96-megawatt woody biomass facility, the company plans to move forward, keeping in mind options for alternative boilers. While Plant Mitchell is not considered a multi-fuel boiler and would not fall under the definition of an incinerator under the new rule, the proposed standards that do apply to the plant are tighter than expected, according to Lynn Wallace, Georgia Power spokesperson. "The IB MACT rule is actually more stringent than we anticipated," she said, adding that it could change the boiler design for the project.

The proposed ruling can be found on the Federal Register. The rule should be finalized by the end of this year.