WADLEY, Ga. — More than 150 people gathered to question the health risks associated with the potential air emissions of a biomass cogeneration power plant currently being proposed for construction in Jefferson County.
Public comments Thursday night were overwhelmingly opposed to North Star Jefferson Renewable Energy’s proposal to build and operate a power plant that would use 80 percent wood biomass, primarily from untreated wood scraps, and 20 percent tire derived fuel to generate around 24 megawatts of electricity that would be contracted to Georgia Power Co.
During the Environmental Protection Division hearing, residents cited concerns about environmental racism, the plant’s less than two-mile upwind proximity to Carver Elementary School and Williamson Swamp Creek. Others claimed that federal Environmental Protection Agency standards are too low and that some of the more dangerous emissions are not even monitored.
However, Eric Cornwell, the program manager for EPD’s Air Protection Branch Stationary Source Permitting Program, explained that from the hearing held Thursday, only the comments regarding air quality issues would be considered in his agency’s final determination.
“We’re only concerned with the regulations we have,” Cornwell said. “We don’t look at water issues, land issues or popularity issues. We are just here to enforce the rules made by someone else (the federal EPA).”
For the past several months, EPD has reviewed North Star’s draft air emissions permit and will now consider public comment before making its final decision on whether to issue it.
“We would not issue a permit if we thought they could not meet the standards,” Cornwell told the crowd.
Before the hearing, Cornwell explained the permitting process and described both the amount of proposed emissions and the air pollution control measures North Star intends to implement.
Under the proposed permit, it can emit 67 tons of particulate matter, 225 tons of sulfur dioxide, 244 tons of nitrogen oxide, 123 tons of carbon monoxide, 17 tons of volatile organic compounds, nine tons of hydrochloric acid and 99,000 tons of greenhouse gases (mostly carbon dioxide).
Cornwell said that after running computer models predicting emissions, it appears that all of the plant’s emissions will be below the EPA standards.
“They were below, and I don’t just mean below, but well below the EPA’s air quality standards,” Cornwell said.
Charles Lewis, a member of the Jefferson Environmental Defense Initiative, took issue with EPD’s claims, saying that he believes the plant should be considered a major source of pollution and be held to stricter standards.
EPD will receive comments and applicable data on the North Star air quality permit application and draft permit until March 23 by mail at 4424 International Parkway, Suite 120, Atlanta, GA 30354 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.