The Grand Island City Council will face a $42 million purchase Tuesday night.

That’s the contract amount for the city to buy equipment to lessen the amount of mercury and other chemicals discharged from the Platte Generating Station, the city’s coal-fired power plant.
“The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has come out with new air emission standards to maintain,” said Tim Luchsinger, Grand Island utilities director.

All power plants are to comply with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards by May 2015, but Grand Island received a one-year extension for compliance by May 2016 due to the complexity of design and construction of the new equipment at the Platte Generating Station south of the city.

The United States Clean Air Act, passed in 1990, put mercury on a list of toxic pollutants that need to be controlled as much as possible.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says exposure to mercury may cause headaches, chest pain, difficulty breathing, nausea and diarrhea, and also may lead to permanent lung scarring.

Long-term and acute exposure to mercury, the CDC says, can lead to significant damage to the nervous system and other conditions.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that more than one in six babies born in the U.S. already have unsafe levels of mercury in their blood.

While all power plants are affected, Luchsinger said, the regulations are heavily geared toward coal-burning plants.

The system will reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent and hydrogen chloride/sulfur dioxide emissions by 83 percent. The emission of other particulates will also be reduced. Those particulates include antimony, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, manganese, nickel and selenium.

The emission reductions will occur through three new phases at the plant — the injection of a lime slurry to capture the hydrogen chloride/sulfur dioxide; the injection of activated carbon to remove mercury; and the addition of a fabric filter to capture particulates.

Besides the cost of the new equipment, Luchsinger said it will cost about $2 million a year to operate the new equipment. That may include hiring additional staff once operations get into full swing in 2015.

Utilities staff and consultants evaluated eight bids that calculated not only the capital cost of the equipment but also the annual cost to run it. The capital costs ranged from $39.9 million to $65.2 million.

The lowest qualified bidder appeared to be AMEC of Tucker, Ga., which bid the equipment at $41.2 million. It’s estimated that the AMEC equipment cost and operational costs over 20 years will equate to a life-cycle cost of $100.1 million — the lowest overall cost of all eight bidders.

The 20-year evaluation pegged the costs at ranging from AMEC’s low at $100.1 million to a high of $123 million by a Massachusetts firm.

If approved Tuesday night, the new equipment would be installed in October 2014 during a planned maintenance outage. Luchsinger said the lead time from purchase to installation goes toward the complexity.

“Because of the engineering, the procurement and the installation, it’s a good 24-month completion schedule,” he said. “It will probably take about three or four months after the system is installed to get it tuned right and operating.”

The council is scheduled to vote on the purchase during its meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday. It has talked about the project previously and authorized the refinancing of electric bonds to help finance the project. Rate adjustments are expected to be needed in the future as well.

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