How Power Plants Can Prepare for Overlapping EPA RegulationsLast fall, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a rule that sets the first federal limits on the levels of toxic metals in power plant effluents. The rule will likely affect about 12 percent of steam electric power plants that must reduce the levels of metals, nutrients and other pollutants by 1.4 billion pounds. The overlap of these new wastewater regulations and recently passed Coal Combustion Residual (CCR) regulations poses significant challenges for power plants.

The Cost of Implementation

The EPA estimates it will cost $480 million industrywide to come into compliance with effluent limitation guidelines (ELGs). But some — including representatives from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association — believe that number is too low. A recent special report from Bloomberg BNA asserts high capital costs will place too high a burden on small- and medium-sized power plants to meet the EPA’s new regulations.

The issue of power plant wastewater goes back to the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, when technologies for scrubbing the pollutants out of exhaust gases led to an increase in those pollutants in wastewater. The new rule provides ELGs — national standards for how this wastewater must be managed or treated before it can be discharged to surface waters.

Overlapping ELG and CCR Regulations

Complicating the situation is the timing of an EPA regulation covering coal combustion residuals (CCR), which went into effect in October 2015. CCRs are fly and bottom ash, boiler slag or flue gas desulfurization (FGD) materials generated by coal-fired power plants. This rule change sets standards for where and how ponds and landfills are built, operating them, monitoring their performance and closing them when full. The regulation is expected to lead to the closure of a number of CCR ponds and landfills.

ELGs and CCRs are intimately connected. As coal-fired power plants take action to meet the ELG rule, they must also consider the CCR requirements. For example, if ash pond use is halted because of the ELG, then the pond must be closed under the CCR rule within a specific amount of time and must meet other CCR requirements. Burns & McDonnell can help you develop solutions for both ash handling and wastewater treatment, but these systems take time to plan and implement.

Developing a Long-Term Plan for Compliance

With the EPA tightening up in both areas, the idea that power plants will have to do nothing is unlikely. If not already in progress, operators should make it a priority to develop a compliance strategy that considers both the CCR and ELG. One step in that process is converting to dry handling of fly ash and bottom ash — a process we’ve helped operators across the country implement.

So, what’s next? Where do you use water? How are you going to handle a dry process? What does your water look like when your ash pond goes away? Answering these questions can provide a good foundation for compliance.

Understanding your plant’s water budget is the first step. If needed, our team has the equipment in house to design and conduct a flow metering program at your plant to document your flows. A valuable but sometimes overlooked tactic is the development of a strong water management program, cutting water use by doing everything from fixing leaky pumps to tightening up operational processes. A surprising amount of water can be lost through pump seals and small process leaks. The less water you use, the less you have to treat and discharge. Because water treatment costs are driven by the flow rate, tightening the water budget can pay off big in capital cost savings.

The next step is understanding what you need to do to comply. Are you only impacted by the ELG requirements, or do you also have local discharge requirements — such as water quality based effluent limits (WQBELs) — to contend with? Consultants with extensive permitting experience can be a significant asset in helping your plant reach compliance as cost effectively as possible.

A good water balance is vital. It’s a tool to predict the impact of changes in plant processes on water use and on effluent quality. If paired with monitoring data, the water balance can become a mass balance that will estimate the final concentration of regulated constituents in the plant effluent, following dry ash conversion and pond closure. This, in turn, will show whether wastewater treatment systems are needed for any of the “leftover” streams, and help to size any new equipment that is needed.

If treatment is needed, tactics to achieve compliance might include a mix of pond-based systems and tank-based systems, including flue gas desulfurization (FGD) wastewater treatment using both physical/chemical and biological systems. Some may choose to install evaporative treatment or eliminate all FGD wastewater by another method in order to qualify for extra time to meet the compliance deadline. It sounds complicated and it can be. The changes required by both recent EPA regulations are extensive.

We’re committed to helping our clients simplify the process by helping define treatment goals and outlining a plan for moving forward.

What do you think? Are these regulations too heavy a burden for small to midsize power plants? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Diane Martini, an associate environmental specialist at Burns & McDonnell, has more than 30 years of experience in water and wastewater design and operations. She’s focused on developing strategies for coal-fired power plants faced with the new Steam Electric Power Effluent Limitation Guidelines (ELGs), the Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) rules and other new regulations.

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Using ITS Technology for Transportation SafetyThere’s a growing trend in the transportation industry as it shifts toward using more intelligent transportation systems (ITS) — the advanced technology applications used to provide innovative services for transportation and traffic management.

Across the country, construction companies and transportation agencies are using ITS to provide motorists and workers alike with safer, more efficient work zones by using technology that delivers real-time traveler information, more in-depth traffic monitoring and more holistic work zone planning.

But even beyond providing safer, more reliable roadways, these technologies streamline construction processes and act as preventative measures to detect potential issues that couldn’t otherwise be captured.

These technologies allow us to identify a variety of factors within a work zone that could have potentially dire effects on motorists and construction workers. By collecting data on known work zone issues in real time, we’re able to make adjustments that mitigate these problems on the fly and can look to the future, implementing solutions that will avoid these problems down the road.

Safer Travel for Motorists

The biggest benefit of using ITS in work zones is the improved mobility and overall safety for all road users. And for motorists, that means having access to real-time travel information that allows them to make better-informed decisions as they navigate through work zones.

By using ITS technologies, like dynamic message signs motorists are immediately updated on traffic flow, like potential backups that might cause a sudden decrease in speed, or suggestions for alternate routes due to construction closures. Drivers also can know which lanes are closed ahead, allowing traffic to start moving away from construction vehicles on the side of the road.

Automated traffic management — including dynamic signs or radar detection devices that provide accurate and reliable travel times — creates better-informed motorists who benefit from a decreased risk of accidents, less frustration traveling through the work zone and fewer — or shorter — travel delays.

Variable speed messaging, dynamic lane control signage or dynamic messaging for poor weather conditions — like ICY BRIDGE AHEAD when temperatures drop — are also examples of how ITS technologies can enhance motorist safety in a permanent or temporary basis such as a work zone.

Intelligent systems like these have already had a great effect on motorist safety through their ability to decrease the risk of accidents, lessen the consequences of crashes and reducing the exposure to crash risk.

Protecting Road Construction Workers

When work zone construction disrupts the normal flow of traffic, road construction and utility workers face serious risk of injury, and even death, when drivers are unprepared to respond to work zone conditions. But tapping into the benefits of ITS, technologies can provide road workers with a safer, more predictable construction site.

Just like the benefits to motorists, dynamic speed limit signs allow for greater flexibility when regulating speeds in and around a work zone. By using radar detection, these signs are able to collect data about upstream traffic near a construction zone. This information allows the construction manager and owner to work together to identify the appropriate speed for that particular work zone, a speed that balances safety measures and vehicle throughput.

These dynamic speed limit signs also provide flexibility when workers need to construct near open lanes of traffic and don’t have the protection of a guardrail — or, if a lane needs to be closed, the site manager can quickly and easily reduce the work zone’s posted speed limit.

And intrusion warning devices — another form of dynamic messaging — provide effective warning indications to both errant drivers and road workers. If a motorist enters a lane with work crews, an ITS device immediately pushes a display message to a dynamic sign alerting the driver to the crews ahead. The movement also triggers an auditory alarm through the on-body pagers worn by workers.

By giving adequate warning time to both the driver and worker, both parties can prevent potential accidents. This preventative system dramatically improves the project’s construction process and quality by allowing those workers to focus on the task at hand rather than watching vehicles go through the work zone.

Answering the Nation’s Infrastructure Question

With the increased focus on rebuilding highway infrastructure and improving existing roadways, we as an industry need to be prepared to handle and navigate these changes from a safety and constructability standpoint.

With the congestion and safety issues that are often associated with work zones, transportation agencies are presented with the unique challenge of needing to execute these maintenance projects while safely mitigating the unpredictable, unstable traffic caused by construction.

A solution? Utilizing intelligent transportation systems to help improve mobility and safety by holistically and actively managing work zone traffic. In the end, smart technologies, like ITS, breed smart infrastructure.

At Burns & McDonnell, our long reputation for using innovative ideas for revolutionary projects is evident in how we develop ITS solutions for work zones. Safety is the foundation of everything we do at Burns & McDonnell.

Not only do we trust these technologies for our clients’ projects, we trust them for the projects where own employee-owners work.

Want to learn more? Connect with me on LinkedIn or comment here and let’s chat about how ITS can help improve work zone safety.

Andrew Reid, PE, PTOE, is a transportation project manager at Burns & McDonnell, specializing in intelligent transportation systems. He has served as project manager on a variety of transportation-related projects.

photo credit: Look Up and Wait Less via photopin (license)

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