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  • By Sheila Pratt, Edmonton Journal

    EDMONTON - Capital Power says it is confident the addition of two gas-fired power plants southwest of Edmonton will not result in air pollution levels that would violate provincial limits.

    Rejecting concerns raised by environmentalists, Edmonton-based Capital Power says its own calculations show air emissions, when all new and older coal-fired electricity plants are operating, “will be under the limits,” said company spokesperson Jerry Bellikka.

    “We’ve been doing modelling in accordance with government standards and we can’t seen any evidence that we will be over the limits,” said Bellikka.

    The two new plants by Capital Power (owned partly by Edmonton taxpayers) will use the best available technology that’s affordable to reduce emissions “to a fraction of what all the new vehicles on Edmonton roads would add,” he added.

    The Pembina Institute, an environmental research group, as well as area residents, want a public hearing into the two new plants proposed for the Genesee area, over concerns about air pollution and water removed from the North Saskatchewan River.

    “That’s why we need a public hearing, to address these concerns in public,” said Brian Staszenski of the Strawberry Landowners Air and Water Group, a local residents’ group.

    But it’s unclear if the concerns of landowners or the Pembina Institute could trigger a hearing. An individual must live within two kilometres of the proposed plants to be granted standing, according to the rules of the Alberta Utilities Commission, which oversees approval of new electricity plants.

    The Pembina Institute, in a letter to the AUC this spring, noted that some of its staff members live in the “West Central airshed” near the proposed power plants.

    It also argued that, given prevailing winds, Edmonton will be directly and adversely affected if air pollution increases in “an already overburdened airshed.”

    The problem is the cumulative effect of two new Capital Power plants plus two other new plants and the continuing operation of local coal plants for some years ahead, says Pembina.

    “The current regulatory context provides no guarantee that air emissions from coal plants will decrease before NOx (nitrogen dioxide) are added to the airshed from new generation projects,” says the letter.

    The four new plants included Capital Power’s proposed plants Genesee 4 and 5, TransAlta Utilities’ proposed Sundance 7 plant with 800 megawatts and Atco’s plans for a 400-megawatt plant in the nearby Industrial Heartland east of Edmonton.

    While gas-fired plants emit less greenhouse gases than coal plants, they can produce “significant” levels of other pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter which already occasionally exceeded federal standards, Pembina said.

    AUC spokesperson Jim Law said the regulator is still reviewing Capital Power’s application, and it’s too early to say if a hearing will be held. Capital Power is also seeking to renew licences for three coal-fired plants.

    To trigger a hearing, an intervener must be “directly and adversely affect,” according to recent appeal court decisions, Law noted.

    “Generally, the area is a two-kilometre radius to receive standing as a matter of course, but we are happy to consider applications for standing on a case-by-case basis outside the two kilometres,” Law said.

    “Any legitimate unresolved concern from a person deemed to have standing can trigger a public hearing.”

    Regardless of whether there are objections, the AUC must consider the social, economic and environmental impacts of a project, he said.

    That would mean the commission would take into account the air pollution limits set by the province’s arm’s-length agency, the Clean Air Strategic Alliance, he added.

    A couple of older coal plants are scheduled to be shut down in 2019 under the federal rule that coal plants have a 50-year lifespan, according to the website of the Alberta Electric System Operator.

    spratt@edmontonjournal.com

    This article was originally posted on theedmontonjournal.com on May 20, 2014