PGE Withdraws Plan to Expand Fracked Gas-Fired Power, But Asks to Increase Pollution by 800% At Existing Plant

By Dan Serres

On February 20, 2018, Portland General Electric (PGE) officially ended plans to expand the Carty Generating Station, a fracked gas-fired facility located near Boardman, Oregon. This is a huge victory for our climate and public health.

PGE took a big step in this direction in 2017 when it suspended permitting requests for two new fracked gas-fired power plants at the Carty site. However, PGE’s decision to abandon the second and third fracked-gas fired power plant is welcome news to the thousands of Oregonians who urged PGE to rely on clean energy rather than expanding the region’s reliance on highly polluting fracked gas.

Riverkeeper strongly supports PGE’s decision to abandon its proposed expansion of fracked gas power plants near Boardman.

But controversy remains.

PGE wants to dramatically increase air pollution at the existing Carty gas plant. PGE wants approval from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for: 

  • an eight-fold increase smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and
  • a three-fold increase in carbon monoxide.

VOCs are of particular concern because they combine with nitrogen oxides and sunlight to form low-level ozone (smog), a powerful respiratory irritant.

You can join us in urging DEQ to reject PGE’s requested pollution increase by commenting here.

Huge Pollution Increase

PGE proposes a massive increase in air pollution from carbon monoxide and volatile organic compound emissions. PGE seeks to increase carbon monoxide pollution by 324%, and VOCs by 808%.

  Current Pollution Limit for Carty Plant Proposed Pollution From Carty Plant Percentage Increase
Carbon Monoxide (CO) 99 tons/year [1] 321 tons/year[2] 324%
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) 24 tons/year [3] 194 tons/year[4] 808%

The specific reasons for PGE’s proposed increase in pollution deserve more investigation. PGE and its manufacturer failed to account for these emissions when the company obtained its initial air pollution permit for the recently completed Carty natural gas-fired power plant. PGE claims that it received new information after construction from its manufacturer about the plant’s air pollution. Additionally, PGE may be operating its facility differently than originally planned. PGE planned for Carty Unit 1 to be a baseload 450 MW power plant. Yet, the plant is now anticipating frequent startup and shutdowns, a major contributor to VOC pollution.

Regardless of its cause, PGE’s request for a massive increase in smog-forming pollution demonstrates that fracked gas power plants are major polluters. In addition to spurring more fracking, huge greenhouse gas emissions, and the consumption of millions of gallons of water, gas-fired power plants create immediate health and environmental impacts, such as the formation of low-level ozone (smog).

Instead of granting PGE’s request to increase its smog-forming pollution by 800%, DEQ should:

  • Hold PGE to current annual pollution limits for VOCs and carbon monoxide.
  • Limit startup and shutdown events. DEQ proposes an hourly limit during startup and shutdown. But these hourly emissions still result in a massive annual increase in smog-forming pollution, based on PGE’s expected operations. This is unacceptable.
  • Cold startups are particularly polluting events, according to the emissions summary for the Carty Plant. If these events are pushing PGE over its pollution limit, then PGE should limit cold startups.
  • Investigate additional Best Available Control Technologies (BACT) that could reduce VOC and carbon monoxide pollution, including restrictions on how PGE operates its facility.
  • Study the potential impact of smog-forming pollution on the Gorge National Scenic Area and nearby communities.

You can read more about the Carty plant issue here.

DEQ is accepting public comments until April 30, 2018. DEQ’s revised public notice and permit information are here, and you can send a short comment by clicking here.

Dan Serres is the Conservation Director for Riverkeeper. Dan works to engage diverse communities along the Columbia. In 2005, he started with Columbia Riverkeeper as the lead organizer in our successful campaign to protect the Columbia River Estuary, forests, and farmland from the Bradwood Landing and Oregon LNG Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) proposals and their related pipelines. Since 2009, he has filled the role of Conservation Director where his work has broadened to protecting the Columbia River from a barrage of dirty fossil fuel export proposals including LNG export terminals, coal export terminals, oil-by-rail facilities, and power plants.

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