Wolverine waiting for EPA to make next move

ROGERS CITY – After having a permit to build a proposed power plant in Rogers City renewed, Wolverine Power Cooperative is awaiting the final rulings on new federal emissions rules.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality recently extended Wolverine’s permit to install the coal and petroleum coke-fired power plant, Ken Bradstreet, director of community and government affairs for Wolverine Clean Energy Venture, said. While this gives the project a new 18-month window for completion, it’s still doubtful Wolverine will go ahead with the project.

“Quite frankly, it seems at this point to be highly unlikely, but we’re going to explore it until it’s obviously not doable,” he said.

Wolverine announced at the start of 2012 that it would shelve plans to build the 600-megawatt plant after the Environmental Protection Agency announced new, stricter regulations that Wolverine’s contractors said they couldn’t guarantee the new plant would meet.

Now, there’s some new hope for the project once the EPA finalizes these rulings, Bradstreet said. The mercury and air toxics standards and greenhouse gas emissions rules would both need to be loosened in March for the project to continue.

“The way that they had proposed rules would make it impossible to build a solid fuels plant,” he said. “The only thing that would’ve fallen under the rules would have been a natural gas plant.”

The EPA announced the MATS rule at the end of 2011, and has since proposed rules that “are a little more doable,” Bradstreet said.

However, if the agency revised MATS but not the greenhouse gas rule, the plant still would be impossible to build, Bradstreet said. While a carbon sequestration system might bring the plant in compliance, there’s nothing affordable and commercially available at the moment. Adding one would make the project even more costly.

“You would have to really commit to a huge project,” he said.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, Wolverine reached an agreement with Wisconsin Electric to retrofit an existing coal-fired plant in Marquette with pollution control equipment, Bradstreet said. It’s expected to cost from $100 million to $150 million. In exchange, Wolverine will get as much as 150 megawatts of the plant’s electricity.

While this would add to the cooperative’s overall capacity, there’s still expected to be a gap in the future, Bradstreet said. Building the new plant would fill this, but there seems to be a trend toward burning natural gas for power, rather than solid fuels.

“It seems with the regulatory environment the way it is, (the Rogers City plant) is just not going to be doable in the future, but we don’t know that yet and we’re waiting to see if that’s going to be the case,” he said.

Mary Ann Dolehanty, DEQ Air Quality Division permit section supervisor, said most permitted facilities are under construction within the first 18 months. The department issues about 500 permits a year, and gets several requests to renew in the same timeframe.

There is no public hearing requirement to renew a permit like Wolverine’s, Dolehanty said, and the cooperative has everything it needs from the Air Quality Division to proceed.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688.