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Using Natural Gas for Power Plants and/or Heating?

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  • Jonathan Clemens
    HREG, The following article is written by someone I would call an expert in particulate matter (PM) pollution, particularly (pun intended) due to the emissions
    Message 1 of 2 , Dec 18, 2000
      The following article is written by someone I would call an expert in particulate matter (PM) pollution, particularly (pun intended) due to the emissions from fossil-fueled power plants.  We see the history of the EPA's look at PM, estimates of amounts from power plants, and an alarming notice of the ill-effects of particulate matter in the air.  Houstonians need to be aware of this situation, as it is every bit as serious, if not more, than the ozone hazard for which Houston is so well known. 
      ----- Original Message -----
      Sent: Saturday, December 16, 2000 7:30 PM
      Subject: Re: Using Natural Gas for Power Plants and/or Heating?

      RE: natural gas burned in turbines as "clean" energy (excerpts):
      Tom Hackney
      >Date: Tue, 17 Oct 2000 11:31:24 -0400
      >From: Annette Smith <vce@...>

      > Dear Activists Challenging New Power Plants:

      > My name is Dian Deevey.  I am a retired atmospheric scientist.  Before
      >retirement, I conducted basic research on the origin and fate of
      >atmospheric particulate matter, and for many years acted as a consultant
      >with the EPA group responsible for all studies of atmospheric
      >particulates, including their sources, composition, distribution, and
      >health effects.  Since retirement I have remained in contact with my
      >former EPA colleagues, and have continued to follow developments in this
      > I write to bring to your attention a serious health hazard associated
      >with the very fine particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter (called
      >"APM2.5") that will be released to the atmosphere by new power plants and
      >other industrial facilities, should they be built and operated. 
      > The PM2.5 hazards are serious ones.  They should be considered in detail
      >by siting boards reviewing the new power plants now planned for NYC,
      >Staten Island, and the Hudson Valley.  Their adverse health effects
      >include increases in the number and severity of asthma attacks in children
      >and adults, increases in episodes of breathlessness and other kinds of
      >distress in people suffering from chronic bronchitis, emphysema and other
      >pulmonary diseases, leading to more ER visits and to hospitalization.
      > There is abundant evidence that heart attacks and even premature death in
      >people with pre-existing cardiovascular disease are triggered by quite
      >moderate increases in atmospheric levels of particulate matter.
      > While those at greatest risk are children and the elderly, large numbers
      >of individuals of normal health may experience frequent and more serious
      >episodes of flu, colds, and other respiratory diseases.  (Sources for
      >information about health effects and other issues raised here are included
      >at the end of this letter.)
      > The present situation can be summed up briefly:
      > Natural gas-fired power plants are a potent source of extremely hazardous
      >tiny particles 2.5 microns or less in diameter (PM2.5).  All of the
      >particulate matter produced by the gas fired turbines of power plants will
      >be less than 2.5 microns in diameter.  In fact, all of it will be less
      >than 1 micron in diameter, and consist largely of organic compounds
      >referred to as products of incomplete combustion (PICs). Some hazardous
      >trace metals will also be released along with the PICs.
      > The PM2.5 standard was not considered by the siting board that certified
      >the PG&E plant in Athens.  None of the intervenors in the case knew that
      >particles in this size range had been identified as a serious health
      >hazard, nor that all the particulate matter from the gas-fired turbines
      >would fall in this size range.  Representatives from the Department of
      >Environmental Conservation and the Department of Health who testified and
      >submitted affidavits during the hearings failed to advise the siting board
      >of this serious potential health hazard.   These two agencies are
      >specifically charged with providing information about health and air
      >quality to the siting board.
      > Particulate matter is one of the several pollutants present in the dirty
      >urban air that has long been known to be associated with acute and chronic
      >health problems.  Beginning in 1971, the EPA has issued and New York has
      >enforced pollution standards to keep the amount and kind of particulate
      >matter in the atmosphere below the level known to be dangerous to health.
      > These standards are subject to detailed review every 5 years.
      > Particulate matter is produced as smoke and soot during the combustion of
      >fossil fuels.  Some Asecondary@ particulate matter is produced in the
      >atmosphere by spontaneous chemical reactions among pollutant gases such as
      >sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, and volatile organic matter. Natural
      >sources of particulate matter include windblown dust, sea salt particles
      >produced in surf at coastal sites, and forest fires.
      > The EPA's early 1971 standards for atmospheric particulate focused on
      >total suspended matter (ATSP@) which comprises particles up to 40 microns
      >in diameter.  (For comparison, the average human hair is about 70 microns
      >in diameter).  In 1987, the EPA revised its regulations to focus on
      >particles less than 10 microns in diameter ("APM10") because overwhelming
      >evidence had shown that the smallest particles in the atmosphere caused
      >most of the harm to humans breathing them.
      > In 1996, the EPA again announced new standards, this time focusing on
      >even smaller particles 2.5 microns or less in diameter (PM2.5). Evidence
      >emerging from hundreds of studies has shown that these tiny particles are
      >chiefly responsible for the most serious adverse health impacts associated
      >with pollution.  When inhaled, PM2.5 penetrates deep into the human lung,
      >where the particles and the toxic materials attached to them remain
      >lodged.  The new standards for PM2.5 have not yet been implemented.
      > Many scientific studies have confirmed that the existing PM10 standards
      >do not protect public health.  In June 2000, a major study confirmed that
      >high rates of premature deaths among the elderly suffering from heart
      >trouble and other health problems are seen in response to very moderate
      >increases in PM10 levels, even though the latter may be well below the
      >Asafe@ threshold level set in 1987.   Similar conclusions have been
      >supported in many other epidemiological studies.  Other research has shown
      >that PM2.5 is the likely culprit in a wide range of adverse health
      >impacts, and that no other pollutant measured seems to exert so strong an
      > But until the new PM2.5 standards proposed by EPA are implemented
      >sometime after 2005, new pollution sources need only satisfy the loose
      >1987 standards to obtain an air permit from DEC.  The Clean Air Act which
      >prescribes state air permitting requires only that existing standards be
      > One reason for this delay is that the EPA's PM2.5 standard were
      >challenged in court by the American Trucking Association and a large
      >number of corporations, industry representatives and some states which are
      >home to major polluters.  A Federal Appeals Court decision favoring the
      >plaintiffs remanded the PM2.5 standard back to the EPA, and allowed the
      >inadequate PM10 standard to stay in effect.  The case will be argued
      >before the Supreme Court on November 8, 2000.
      > PM2.5 and Power Plant Siting
      > The New York siting board reviewing each new plant application has to
      >decide whether that plant will be "...compatible with public health and
      >safety..."  According to representatives of the Public Service Department,
      >Article X requires that if there is any health or other environmental risk
      >associated with any pollutant from a proposed power plant, that risk must
      >be very fully considered by the board.  This is true even if the proposed
      >plant can satisfy all the requirements of the Clean Air Act, including the
      >existing regulations for PM10 levels.
      > The PM2.5 hazard was not considered by the siting board that approved the
      >power plant in Athens.  No party brought up the issue, and neither the DEC
      >nor the DOH volunteered any information about it.  No one questioned these
      >or any other witnesses about PM2.5.   The board was told only that PM10
      >particulate emissions from the new plant will comply with existing
      >standards.  Examination of the record confirms that the board was informed
      >(in error) that compliance with the PM10 standard implies protection of
      >public health and safety. 
      > Natural gas-fired power plant emissions are cleaner than those from
      >coal-fired power plants.   According to data published by EPA, gas-fired
      >turbines produce only about 10% as much particulate matter as the average
      >coal fired plant that uses the best pollution control technology, when
      >compared on an energy-equivalent basis.  The particulate matter that is
      >emitted from the stacks of coal-fired power plants contains many highly
      >toxic trace metals and other toxic constituents not found in the stack
      >gases of plants using natural gas. Nevertheless, particles produced by
      >natural gas combustion are not benign.  They contain a large suite of
      >toxic organic compounds as well as some toxic metals.  Furthermore, all
      >the particulate matter produced by natural gas combustion is less than 1
      >micron in diameter, which puts these emissions at the lower end of the
      >PM2.5 size range, believed by many to be the more dangerous size range.
      > The amount of PM released from a large power plant like the 1080 Megawatt
      >Athens plant depends upon the percentage of the time it operates at peak
      >capacity, as well as the emission rates of the individual power-generating
      >turbines it operates.  For the Athens plant, emission rates listed in the
      >air permit would correspond to a maximum of 448 tons per year of
      >particulate matter from the gas-fired turbines, and 44 tons per year from
      >the oil-fired turbines.  All of the  particulate matter from the gas-fired
      >turbines will be less than one micron in diameter, and therefore fall
      >within the PM2.5 category.  According to EPA data, 77% of the particulate
      >emissions from oil-fired turbines will be PM2.5. 
      > No power plant operates at peak capacity 100% of the time.  The Athens'
      >air permit requires it to operate the gas-fired turbines at least 75% of
      >the time.  This corresponds to a minimum total of 336 tons per year of
      >very fine particulate matter from these turbines. Seventy-five percent of
      >the maximum emissions allowed from the oil-fired turbines would inject
      >another 25 tons per year of PM2.5 into the local atmosphere.  The
      >resulting total of about 360 tons of PM2.5 per year for the 1080 megawatt
      >may be used as a basis for rough estimates of the PM2.5 emissions from
      >other natural gas fired plants.  The emission rate is proportional to the
      >Megawatt capacity of the plant, and the percentage of time it operates in
      >each year.
      > Dian R. Deevey
      > PO Box 30
      > Canaan NY 12029
      > dian@...
      > Health hazards of PM2.5 and inadequacy of the existing PM10 standard: "Health and Environmental Effects of Particulate Matter"
      >at: http://www.epa.gov/ttn/oarpg/naawsfin/pmhealth.html
      > Executive Summary in the first chapter of the
      >draft of the Air Quality Criteria Document
      >at: http://www.epa.gov/nceawww1/partmatt.htm
      > The AQCD summarizes many epidemiological and other studies showing the
      >inadequacy of the existing particulate matter standards.  An additional
      >very important study confirming this conclusion was released in June of
      >this year.  This is the National Morbidity, Mortality, and Air Pollution
      >Study, Part II:
      > Emissions data. EPA:
      > Vermonters for a Clean Environment, Inc.
      > 789 Baker Brook Road, Danby, VT  05739
      > (802) 446-2094 || vce@... || www.vtce.org>

    • Jonathan Clemens
      HREG, This fine article is a follow on to Dian Deevey s message I recently forwarded. Ned Ford cautions us about not fully understanding the science behind
      Message 2 of 2 , Dec 18, 2000

        This fine article is a follow on to Dian Deevey's message I recently
        forwarded. Ned Ford cautions us about not fully understanding the science
        behind particulate matter pollution and the economics of natural gas versus
        other fuels. Read the previous article first, I suggest, while those of you
        interested in science and economics can read on. His main point is that
        2.5M (micron) PM with NG may be different from 2.5M with diesel, which may
        be different from 2.5M with coal burning. Good point, for there are
        differing levels of other toxins associated with each of the fuel types'

        This article restates the importance of efficiency measures in the coming
        decade, with RE coming in full stride later. Ned emphasizes the importance
        of DSM (Demand Side Management), which we touched upon at our last general


        ----- Original Message -----
        From: "Ned Ford" <Ned.Ford@...>
        To: <CONS-SPST-ENERGY-FORUM@...>
        Sent: Sunday, December 17, 2000 8:22 PM
        Subject: Re: Using Natural Gas for Power Plants and/or Heating?

        > Tom Hackney's message containing Dian Deevey's message does two things:
        > 1) It takes us back to the inevitable importance of creating new
        > systems to increase energy efficiency, since nothing else is available
        > in quantity and at cost to become a meaningful part of the picture in
        > the next fifteen years or so.
        > 2) It demonstrates the level of knowledge that still needs to be
        > obtained before we know precisely what pollution is the worst: I
        > appreciate Dian's message because all too often the scientific community
        > fails to convey the precise nature of the issues to the public (and the
        > activist community). But she too leaves some of the puzzle unexamined.
        > While there is a sound body of evidence that PM 2.5 (the "APM" in her
        > message is a relic of some text conversion) is the particulate matter
        > that matters to human health, there is still a lot left to be
        > determined. It is evident that there are a lot of differences between
        > PM2.5 from coal, PM2.5 from diesel, and PM2.5 from natural gas as well
        > as other sources. One scientist I speak with occasionally says that 45%
        > of the PM2.5 in ambient air (presumably in the Midwest) is heavy metal
        > particles that are highly acidic. He presumes that these particles are
        > from coal. I have not heard that natural gas particulate matter
        > includes heavy metals, although it is clear that there can be some
        > sulphur in natural gas. Diesel PM2.5 contains complex reactive
        > chemicals that I do not fully understand, which are probably
        > disproportionately dangerous to health.
        > For those of us working on the cutting edge of these issues, it is
        > evident that some people presume that further PM2.5 cuts will result
        > from stronger acid rain laws, and that this is the regulatory course to
        > take. Others assume that further acid rain gains will result from the
        > necessary reductions in PM2.5. Confusing? Well, that is the state of
        > environmental protection in the U.S. Confusing. And anything but
        > concerned with the health of the public.
        > The greatest unknown is the degree to which particulate matter can be
        > controlled from power plant sources. New source standards are far more
        > protective than existing plant standards, but they still do not directly
        > regulate PM 2.5. They will reduce PM2.5 incidentally, relative to older
        > power plants, because the PM10 standards are so much stronger. But we
        > really don't have a clear sense that I've been able to detect, of what
        > level of PM2.5 is acceptable. My understanding is that the new
        > standards advanced by the Clinton EPA and savagely attacked from every
        > direction except to criticize the basic conclusion EPA reached that
        > current standards fail to protect human health, were not intended to
        > cause reductions directly. (The new ozone standards do cause
        > reductions, and represent a compromise between science and polluter
        > appeasement, but don't expect to hear that from anyone in public any
        > time soon. We should be accomodating, because the movement from 125 ppb
        > to 85 ppb is a large one that will save many lives and improve the
        > health of tens of millions of people, but the science demonstrates a
        > convincing drop-off in impact below 60 ppb).
        > What the new PM2.5 standards do, is establish the fact that PM2.5 is of
        > regulatory concern, thereby justifying the Clean Air Act's operation to
        > require all air pollution testing facilities to include measurement of
        > PM2.5 in their work. Thus, in a few years, we will have enough data to
        > determine what the problem looks like from a comprehensive perspective
        > nationwide. At present, we know that health is impacted, and we know
        > that levels are too high to protect health, but we don't know what
        > levels are like all year long, all around the nation. As I understand
        > it, by the time we have the monitoring picture usefully established, we
        > should also have some more information about the levels that could
        > protect health, and the relationship between different types of sources
        > and the relative harm to human health.
        > Having a negative strategy (we're against pollution) isn't sufficient to
        > cause change. We have to have a positive strategy as well. Neither the
        > nation, nor the environmental movement, have worked hard to develop a
        > coherent strategy, and we must change this! Natural gas has been widely
        > regarded as the fuel of choice, but there is little doubt that natural
        > gas will remain the fuel of choice in the face of $9.50/mmbtu costs, or
        > for that matter, $4.50/mmbtu. Wind is not an option for the reasons
        > that the wind industry can't gear up fast enough to substitute wind for
        > natural gas where it is feasible, and wind is not feasible where there
        > aren't ambient wind conditions that justify the cost of an array. In
        > fifteen years or so, wind will become mature, and this could be
        > jumped-forward some by decent policy, but it is not clear that wind has
        > enough technological room to substantially increase the geographic
        > distribution of areas where it will make sense, even if it is clear that
        > it will become cheaper, and therefore penetrate markets further.
        > I want to be working on something that will make a difference today.
        > The only thing I have found that makes that difference possible is
        > efficiency. There are limits to the amount of efficiency that can be
        > obtained through appliance standards and building codes, and we need to
        > explore ways to go beyond those standards. The high price of natural
        > gas will help policymakers understand the importance of this, but
        > efficiency is still such a different animal than supply, that we need to
        > work hard to make the case for the non-utility DSM programs I think are
        > the wisest choice.
        > Several parts of the nation are finding that deregulation wasn't the
        > magic wand they all wanted to believe in, and recognizing that
        > non-utility DSM is an important means of protecting against the worst
        > negative impacts of dereg. This message needs to be heard in the
        > majority of the nation where DSM wasn't ever a serious topic. I believe
        > that DSM can be effectively administered up to about 4 or 5% of utility
        > revenues. It is likely that non-utility DSM will cost a lot less than
        > utility DSM did, and thereby make it possible to provide a steady,
        > modest decrease in emissions with programs that cost 2% of utility
        > revenues or less. But the criteria should be a steady net reduction in
        > emissions, not a percentage of cost. DSM will reduce bills, while
        > making per KWH rates higher, and this is something that needs to be
        > underscored again and again and again...
        > So perhaps we can promote efficiency programs that are funded by 1% of
        > utility revenues, or less, just to demonstrate the effectiveness and
        > importance of these programs. But we need to keep our eye on the ball,
        > which is a steady net reduction rate.
        > I am very interested in other ways to promote efficiency. There are
        > some wonderfully intelligent programs that might or might not be called
        > DSM. Most of the ones I know were terminated by Congress or state level
        > officials. They generally involve financial assistance that can be used
        > first to produce qualified engineering for large-scale commercial and
        > industrial changes, and second to support some of the funding of the
        > proposed changes.
        > I'd love to hear other ideas on how to increase efficiency.
        > - Ned
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