Less than a week after the Puerto Rico government cancelled its contract with Energy Answers for the construction and operation of a new 77-megawatt solid waste facility in Arecibo, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday its final approval of an air permit for the proposed waste-to-energy plant.
The proposed $500 million plant owned by Energy Answers Arecibo LLC’s, would be located at the former site of Global Fibers Paper Mill in that northern town. The project was first proposed in mid 2011, at which time the permits application process got underway.
The permit requires Energy Answers to use the best available control technology to reduce air pollutants to the maximum degree. The permit also requires performance tests, some continuous emissions monitoring, as well as other monitoring requirements to make sure that Energy Answers meets the air pollutant limits set in the permit.
“The EPA reviewed the analysis of the projected air quality impacts and has determined that the facility will meet air quality standards,” the agency said.
Energy Answers first sought EPA’s permission to build the plant in May 2012, which has been the focus of six agency-sponsored public hearing sessions in Arecibo. The EPA ultimately reviewed more than 3,000 public comments before making its final decision.
The EPA has “carefully considered all comments and oral testimonies, and prepared detailed responses to these comments,” which can be found on the EPA’s website. The EPA’s approval of the air permit may be appealed through its Environmental Appeals Board in Washington, D.C.
“The EPA made a number of adjustments to the permit in response to public comments. Several operating, monitoring and reporting requirements in the permit are more stringent than originally proposed,” the agency noted. “The final permit contains requirements for more frequent testing for dioxin and furan emissions.”
In addition to the direct requirements of the permit for the facility, Energy Answers will finance the installation of a second monitor in the community to collect data on lead emissions. This is in addition to a lead monitor that is already operating in the Arecibo area.
The Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board also operates an air monitor for particles in Barceloneta, approximately eight miles from Arecibo.
Mark Green, Energy Answers’ representative in Puerto Rico, described the EPA’s determination as a “significant milestone” for the company that comes after a “long and rigorous review process by the highest technical and regulatory authority.”
This permit, in turn, guarantees that the proposed facility will comply with the highest standards of federal environmental protection and, therefore, will be safe for the citizens of Arecibo, he added.
“The process was very thorough and I must admit, sometimes intense, because it entailed going through a detailed, lengthy and rigorous program evaluation. However, now that we have successfully completed the evaluation process, the end result ensures the protection of the environment, and makes the achievement much more important and significant,” Green said.
The federal agency’s approval comes in the wake of the decision by the Puerto Rico Solid Waste Authority to cancel the contract between the agency and Energy Answers, on the premise that it had violated the Autonomous Municipalities Law by limiting the authority of towns to dispose of their solid waste.
Energy Answers officials made no mention of the SWA’s determination Tuesday. The project is now awaiting the Environmental Quality Board’s opinion on the proposed WTE plant.