Work under way at Gaston – Alabama Power adding environmental controls

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Alabama Power’s Gaston Plant is busier than usual.

There’s a good reason why. Several hundred construction workers are in the midst of a project that will help improve air quality throughout central Alabama, including Shelby County.

By this time next year, selective catalytic reduction technology (SCR) will be in place on one of the Wilsonville plant’s five units.

&uot;You want it before May (of 2006) because May is the start of the ozone season,&uot; project manager David Prater said.

SCR technology is similar to a catalytic converter for an automobile. It transforms nitrogen oxide, a component of ground-level ozone, into nitrogen and water, which is harmless to the environment. Nitrogen oxide, on the other hand, helps to form smog.

Alabama Power began work on the project last June. It is being constructed in three phases, with the first phase just about completed. The first phase includes setting the dampers (which act similar to those in fireplaces) and rebuilding and re-strengthening the precipitators that help remove particles from the exhaust before it passes though a 15-story stack.

The second phase, which includes the construction of two boxes where the gases come through, should start in six to eight weeks.

The third phase includes a scrubber that uses limestone to reduce emissions.

Nitrogen oxide emissions to the unit should decrease by 80 percent once work is completed. That is significant, since the unit accounts for about 40 percent of the plant’s power production.

Some 900 construction workers from across Alabama, and the country, are working to complete the project. Alabama Power employs only about 319 individuals at the Gaston plant.

Once work on the large unit is completed, Alabama Power will add selective non-catalytic reduction (SNCR) technology to the other four units. Once that work is completed, emissions are expected to decrease by 25 percent on the units.

According to Alabama Power, the SNCRs should be completed in 2006 or 2007.

Just a few weeks ago, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy released a report stating the Gaston plant had the largest emissions increase in the country for nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, which forms soot.

According to the report, the Gaston plant increased its nitrogen oxide emissions to an equivalent of 600,000-average cars, and sulfur dioxide emissions by the equivalent of 27 new power plants.

However, Alabama Power reported that companywide, the level of nitrogen oxide emissions has decreased by more than 41 percent since 1996, while sulfur oxide emissions have decreased by more than 24 percent.

Officials also reported sulfur dioxide emissions in 2004 were 23 percent below 1990 levels, and attributed the recent increase in emissions to increased plant generation.

There is also optimism the new SCR technology and scrubber will help Shelby County meet air Environmental Protection Agency air quality standards.

Ozone levels measured at Helena were just one particle per billion over the new federal standards.

Alabama Power is also looking at ways to meet fine particle, or PM2.5 pollution standards, that include carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, ozone and sulfur oxides.

About the plant

The Gaston plant is located on 1,262 acres and has a nameplate capacity of 1.88 million kilowatts – enough power to serve some 470,000 homes.

Adjacent to the plant is the Power Systems Development Facility, a joint project of Southern Company and the U.S. Department of Energy. Ongoing research at the facility continues to generate energy with fewer emissions