Environment
3:21 pm
Wed January 2, 2013

Kentucky Utilities to Pay Millions For Alleged Clean Air Act Violations

Kentucky Utilities will spend $57 million to install updated pollution control equipment and pay civil penalties under the terms of a proposed consent decree.

The money will go to installing a sulfuric acid mist emission control system at the company’s Ghent power plant, replace a coal-fired boiler and pay $300,000 in fines to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Here’s what the EPA said about the settlement in a news release:

The terms of the settlement requires Kentucky Utilities to adhere to more stringent and permanent emission limits and install a sulfuric acid mist pollution control system that will reduce sulfuric acid mist emissions by more than two-thirds (3.7 million lbs/year).  Kentucky Utilities will spend approximately $57 million dollars in injunctive relief to install the system and make other changes at the Ghent County facility.  These changes will reduce emissions of sulfuric acid mist in an area that ranks among the top 10% of environmental justice areas in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. 

As part of the settlement, the EPA is also requiring KU to upgrade the boiler at a nearby school to help mitigate the damage to the area’s air. The boiler was coal-fired, but the new one will run on geothermal energy.

Sulfuric acid is formed when coal is burned, releasing sulfur oxides. Sulfur trioxide combines with water to form sulfuric acid.

David Lloyd is an environmental scientist with EPA’s Region 4 office. He says he noticed the problem at KU’s Ghent power plant in 2007; the emission coming out of the smokestacks weren’t as opaque as it should have been. He says the EPA is alleging the increase in sulfuric acid was due—ironically—to other pollution equipment the company installed on the plant to control sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. Those controls—plus a switch to higher-sulfur coal—contributed to the problem.

"It really illustrates the importance of understanding how what you do to control one aspect of the pollution has impacts on other aspects of it,” Lloyd said.

Liz Pratt of KU says at the time the company made the pollution controls, it wasn't required to get its permit modified for sulfuric acid. She says the company won't seek to recover the costs for the new boiler or civil penalties. But it is allowed to attempt to recover the cost for the new sulfuric acid controls from ratepayers.

The consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period.