Originally created 07/09/01

Energy station planned



A $380 million electric power plant adjacent to DSM Chemicals in Augusta could be under construction this fall if the Illinois-based parent company's request for environmental permits is approved.

The proposal from SkyGen Energy, a subsidiary of Calpine Corp., would create 25 permanent jobs and employ as many as 500 workers during the two-year construction phase, according to company officials.

Kent Morton, the project director for the Northbrook, Ill., company, said the electric generating station would produce as many as 750 megawatts of electricity with modern burners fired by natural gas.

By comparison, Thurmond Dam, 22 miles upriver from Augusta, generates 280 megawatts, and South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.'s Urquhart Generating Plant in Beech Island generates 150 megawatts.

"It's a sizable plant," said Ron Methier, the chief of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division's Air Protection Branch, which is evaluating SkyGen's request for environmental permits.

The plant, called Augusta Energy Center, would market its electricity and sell steam produced during the generation process to nearby DSM, which would utilize the heat in its chemical manufacturing processes.

Despite its modern technology, Augusta Energy Center would emit sizable quantities of air pollution, according to its permit application.

Potential annual emissions include 630 tons of nitrogen oxides; 126 tons of sulfur dioxide; 396 tons of particulate; and as much as 224 tons of volatile organic compounds.

Those pollutants are elements of smog and ozone. Augusta has been warned it could be designated as a nonattainment zone because its air flunks new health standards outlined in the federal Clean Air Act.

However, because of the agreement to furnish steam to DSM Chemicals, the net volume of pollutants released into the atmosphere would be likely to decrease, rather than increase, according to DSM spokesman Richard Lawson.

"When they get that plant up, and we start getting the steam from them, we will be able to shut down our boilers, so those emissions will no longer be going out," he said. "The overall emissions, therefore, would be less."

Mr. Morton added that potential emissions outlined in the permit application can be misleading. "The potential to emit is the worst-case scenario under the worst operating parameters," he said.

The plant would employ a technology called selective catalytic reduction that is the best of its kind in terms of efficiency and pollution reduction.

"Under normal operations conditions, emissions of nitrogen oxides will be less from the Augusta Energy Center than from the existing boilers that DSM will be shutting down," Mr. Morton said.

Mr. Methier said EPD has proposed approving the company's permit request and will hold a public meeting and hearing at 7 p.m. Aug. 1 at the Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building to accept comments on the matter.

"They are proposing best-available control technology," Mr. Methier said. "We've done the review so far, and the plant will satisfy all the state and federal permitting requirements."

SkyGen also plans to use Augusta's Messerly Wastewater Treatment Plant as a partial source for its process water.

Mr. Morton said about 2.6 million gallons per day of the Messerly Plant's discharge into an artificial wetlands system that flows into Butler Creek and the Savannah River would be diverted to the new plant.

"So because we're taking it, the amount they load on the wetlands is decreased by 8 to 10 percent," he said.

Although the air emissions seem substantial, the technology is much more efficient and less polluting than burners at coal-fired power plants now under attack by environmentalist and clean air advocates, officials say.

For example, Georgia Power Co.'s Plant Bowen near Cartersville, an aging, coal-fired facility, emitted 41,513 tons of nitrogen oxides and 140,154 tons of sulfur dioxide in 1999 alone, said Allison Kelly, the coordinator of Georgia Airkeepers, an environmental and public health coalition.

The new plant in Augusta could be operational within two years, once construction begins. SkyGen has a similar generating plant already under construction adjacent to the Eastman Chemical plant near Columbia.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119, or rpavey@augustachronicle.com.

Facility's offerings

Augusta Energy Center electric generating plant:

SkyGen plans a $380 million plant near DSM Chemicals in east Augusta, which would create 25 jobs and employ 500 workers during construction.

Potential annual emissions include 630 tons of nitrogen oxides, 126 tons of sulfur dioxide and 396 tons of particulate.

DSM Chemicals would buy steam from the plant, enabling it to shut down its process burners, resulting in a net decrease in local air pollution.

Georgia's Environmental Protection Division will hold a public hearing on the permit request for Augusta Energy Center at 7 p.m. Aug. 1 at the Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building.

The operating plan calls for using 2.6 million gallons per day of treated sewage from Augusta's Messerly Wastewater Treatment Plant to convert to steam.