edtkeith/FlickrThe San Joaquin Valley has some of the worst air quality in the United States.
Two Central Valley biomass plants have agreed to pay more than $830,000 in fines for violating the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced yesterday.
“Today’s enforcement actions are a victory for human health,” Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest, said in a statement.
The plants in Chowchilla and El Nido, both owned by Global Ampersand, LLC, of Boston, were fined $343,000 and $492,000, respectively. Company representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
David Kim, assistant regional counsel for the EPA, said that the fines showed that even the renewable energy industry could run afoul of air pollution regulations.
“The renewable energy industry serves an important function in terms of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels,” Kim said, “but at the same time, they too, like all other industries, are subject to the Clean Air Act.”
The plants, according to the EPA, emitted nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide at excessive levels; did not perform tests to measure the amounts of air pollutants; did not install a control system for nitrogen oxides, which can form smog; and did not certify emissions monitoring systems.
The settlement will require the plants to begin monitoring air pollutants, provide better control systems for nitrogen oxides emissions, and prepare stricter control plans to minimize air pollution. The plants have installed equipment that will reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides by up to 180 tons per year and carbon monoxide by 365 tons per year, according to the EPA.
The plants burn agricultural waste from farms and construction debris to generate power – activities that would otherwise be subject to restrictions on open burning put in place by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, which covers San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings and Tulare Counties, and part of Kern County.
The EPA and the district announced the settlement after a joint investigation. The agencies will each take half of the fine revenue. The Chowchilla plant was fined an additional $15,000 for violations of district regulations.
The settlement will be subject to a 30-day public comment period, after which a federal judge in the eastern district of California must certify it.
Both plants were touted for their environmental benefits when they opened in 2008 after Global Ampersand refurbished the properties.
The plants received a $12.5 million operating loan in 2009 from Akeida Capital Management, an investment company that specializes in the renewable energy industry.
In a June 2009 article in the Fresno Business Journal, David Kandolha, principal at Akeida Capital, said, “The environmental benefits provided by these plants and the unique challenges of this transaction made it critical for us, working with our partners, to come up with a flexible financing package in order to provide the capital necessary to allow these plants to operate at their full capacity for the foreseeable future.”
Global Ampersand focuses on renewable energy, with investments in hydroelectric power plants as well as biomass plants.