Duke Energy Progress seeks to expand air pollution permit

Amanda Moss Richmond County Daily Journal

October 16, 2013

Duke Energy Progress in Richmond County is seeking a permit to allow the plant to emit higher levels of air pollution to allow the plant to operate to its full capacity.

Duke Energy Progress began its operation in June 2011. Since then it has become one of the larger natural gas-burning facilities in North Carolina. There are around 350 facilities in the state of North Carolina that fall under the category of larger facilities.

Duke Energy Progress must apply for a Title V permit with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The North Carolina Division of Air Quality (DAQ) monitors the requirements found in state and federal air pollution regulations.

Tom Mather, public information officer of DAQ, explained the purpose of the Title V permit.

“The Title V permit is used for larger facilities,” Mather said. “It pulls together all various requirements to meet air quality into one document. It’s requirements are more rigorous than those for smaller air pollution services. The recordkeeping has to be more detailed, it must report all information to the state and the regulations become federally enforceable under a Title V permit.”

Mather said that before a Title V permit is granted, the DAQ gives a 30-day period for the public to comment or request a public hearing on the matter. That period ended Sept. 9.

Mather said only one entity — the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League — expressed concern for the Title V permit during the public comment period.

Kate Dunnagan, community organizer for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, said that if the permit was approved it would increase the levels of toxins in the air — such as nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide. However, the biggest concern of the organization is the soource of the natural gas; specifically, they want to know if the natural gas is coming from a process known as hydraulic fracturing.

“Hydraulic fracturing is more commonly known as ‘fracking,” said Dunnagan. “It is a method of extracting natural gas that involves chemicals being injected into the ground to break up shale formations and release the gas. These chemicals that are left behind can get into ground water and pollute it as well as increase air pollution.”

Lisa Hoffman, Duke Energy Progress media relations, tried to address those concerns.

“Duke Energy Progress is simply a natural gas customer,” Hoffman said. “We simply receive the gas from various sources. We have no part in the way the gas is procured.”

When asked about the Title V permit for the Richmond County facility, Hoffman said that it was just a process of operating a facility.

“It is a stepping stone,” Hoffman said. “First we had a construction permit for the facility, then a regular operating permit and now a Title V permit. We are still required to fall under the federal and state guidelines found under the Title V permit, and we are well under the limits.”

Hoffman believes the benefits of the Title V permit outweigh the pitfalls.

“Natural gas is a cleaner, and cheaper, energy source in comparison to coal or fuel oil,” Hoffman said. “And since 2005, North Carolina as a whole has reduced its emission of sulfur dioxide by 89 percent and its emission of nitrogen dioxide by 61 percent.”