Taking aim at what it called the state’s six “oldest and dirtiest” power plants, Massachusetts last week issued a sweeping set of new regulations that call for significant reductions of a whole host of pollutants being emitted by the plants. Significantly, the new standards also position Massachusetts as the only state in the nation to limit carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

“The new, tough standards will help ensure older power plants in Massachusetts do not contribute to regional air pollution, acid rain and global warming,” said Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift (R) in unveiling the rules.

The first-in-the-nation regulations, which take effect in June, call for significant reductions in CO2, nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and mercury at the six power plants, bringing these facilities in line with emission standards for newer plants. It’s also worth noting the regulations reject the use of “averaging,” meaning that companies owning more than one plant cannot have a polluting facility in one community simply because they operate a clean one in another part of the state. Instead, the high standards must be achieved at each plant.

The final regulations apply to the following companies and their plants: Sithe Energies Inc.’s Mystic Station in Everett; NRG Energy Inc.’s Montaup Station in Somerset; Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s Salem Harbor facility in Salem and Brayton Point in Somerset; Western Massachusetts Electric Companies/Northeast Utilities’ Mount Tom Station in Holyoke; and Mirant Co.’s Canal Electric in Sandwich.

Under the new rules, companies choosing to install devices on their emissions stacks to remove the pollutants must have pollution reduction devices in place by 2004. If the companies choose this path, plants must reduce their NOx emissions to 1.5 pounds/MWh and their SO2 emissions to six pounds/MWh by October 2004. Two years later, the plants must further reduce their SO2 emissions to three pounds/MWh.

Alternatively, the companies can also choose to repower their plants. By an October 2006 deadline, the repowered plants will need to reduce emissions of NOx to 1.5 pounds/MWh and SO2 to six pounds/MWh. In another two years, the facilities will have to get their SO2 levels to three pounds/MWh. These new regulations will remove 50% of NOx and up to 75% of SO2 per facility each year from the air.

The same year that the plants meet the NOx and SO2 standards, they will also be required to reduce CO2 emission levels to below 1,800 pounds/MWh, resulting in a 10% total reduction. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection will also review the feasibility of reducing mercury by December 2002 and propose a mercury standard for companies to comply with by October 2006.

The standards are premised on the belief that the six plants can be upgraded without any anticipated interruption in the state’s energy supply. Currently, Massachusetts has 14 plants that are in the permitting and construction phase and are expected to come online in 2005, with six additional plant proposals that are beginning the siting process.

The regulations are already coming under fire from at least one quarter, with the Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) yesterday criticizing the standards on a number of fronts. AIM is an employer association of more than 5,400 Massachusetts companies.

Among other things, AIM noted that the generating facilities affected by the regulations constitute 40% of the state’s electricity supply. AIM argued that the timeline contained in the regulations to curb emissions for these plants will cost millions of dollars. The association also contradicted the state in arguing that the rules do indeed risk power interruptions.

For its part, Northeast Utilities said it was too early to comment on the regulations as the company has just started to digest the approximately 100-page document. “It would be premature for us to have a reaction one way or the other until we’ve done a pretty thoughtful and thorough review of the new regulations and figure out what their impact would be on Mount Tom,” Frank Poirot, a spokesperson for Northeast Utilities, told NGI.

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