Connecticut coal-fired power plant air permit issued

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved a five-year permit for the last coal-fired power plant operating in Connecticut. The plant, PSEG Power LLC's Bridgeport Harbor Generating Station, can generate 529 megawatts of energy by combusting coal and oil.

While the plant has operated since 1961, its permit renewal was questioned for economic and environmental reasons. Across the nation, operators of coal plants have announced plans to close or convert plants to other fuels such as natural gas and biomass. Between the low cost of natural gas - projected to stay low for the foreseeable future - and tighter environmental regulations affecting the electric utility sector, many older and smaller coal-fired power plants are no longer economic to operate. Additionally, environmental activists have targeted coal-burning plants as polluters, and had argued against the Bridgeport Harbor plant's new permit.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, existing major stationary sources (i.e. those capable of emitting 100 tons per year or more of any criteria air pollutant) must obtain a so-called Title V permit every five years. Generally, Title V permits are issued by the state or local air pollution control agency, but EPA has 45 days to review any proposed permit and request changes. In September, Connecticut recommended that EPA renew Bridgeport Harbor's permit. After the 45-day review process, EPA approved the permit's issuance.

What does the Bridgeport Harbor air permit mean? Most directly, it means PSEG may continue to operate its plant for another five years -- if it wants to. According to the Connecticut Post, by mid-summer the plant had only operated 24 days this year. The Bridgeport Harbor plant can provide both baseload power and peaking power needed to satisfy peak consumer demand, but generally the fewer days an asset operates, the harder it is to recover the cost of ownership and operations.

Moreover, coal-fired power plants are declining in the U.S. This is particularly true in New England, a region far from coal mining. Will PSEG hold onto the Bridgeport Harbor station and seek another Title V permit in 2017? For how long will the plant continue to burn coal? Will PSEG or another owner seek to repurpose the plant to burn other fuels?