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High Sulfur Fuel: Another Story
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High Sulfur Fuel: Another Story
In recent weeks, the Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) has begun a campaign urging the public to contact Washington, D.C. They want citizens to ask for permission to allow HECO's Kahe power plant to burn 2% sulfur fuel.
A few years ago it was discovered that HECO's Kahe power plant was violating the sulfur dioxide standards set by the national Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Subsequently, the EPA ordered HECO to conform to the federal air quality standards. The EPA did not specify the methods to be used and left the decision up to HECO. At that time, HECO chose to switch to low sulfur fuel oil and raise the height of its smoke stacks. The use of low-sulfur fuel is the easiest method of sulfur dioxide control available to an oil fired utility because it involves the least construction and the high cost of low-sulfur fuel can be passed on directly to the consumer in the "fuel adjustment clause." However, according to the September 1975 analysis of alternatives by PEDCO-Environmental Specialists, Inc., this alternative was the most expensive approach to the consumer.
The alternative to burning low-sulfur fuel -- although experimental in 1975 -- was the use of the so-called "scrubbers" to remove the sulfur dioxide before it left the smoke stack. If HECO had chosen -- at that time -- to begin installation of some type of "scrubber," they would now be in the position to burn any low cost fuel without lowering our air quality. Although there were no scrubbers in operation in the U.S. in 1975, Japan had scrubbers operating on oil-fired plants which removed sulfur oxides from emissions with much success; those scrubbers are still in operation today.
To allow the Kahe power plant to burn low sulfur fuel would set a dangerous precedent. The power plant at Kahului, Maui currently exceeds state and federal sulfur dioxide standards regularly. If laws are changed for Kahe, there will most likely be a similar request for Maui. Maui citizens are currently worried about the adverse effects on their health caused by emissions from the power plant. Sulfur dioxide, when it mixes with water vapor and oxygen, is converted to sulfurous and sulfuric acids, both of which are corrosive and capable of pitting metallic surfaces. Sulfur dioxide and the related compounds are especially damaging to human tissue. The lungs are especially vulnerable when the pollutant and related compounds become attached to particulates emitted in smoke which are then inhaled and lodge in the lungs' smaller air passages. We must not open the door to allow continuation of this air pollution problem.
The national Clean Air Act of 1977 which provides these clean air standards is to be reviewed this year by Congress. The LWV/Hawaii is expecting many proposed changes. Industries, like HECO, will be asking for relief of environmental constraints citing that changes will save consumer dollars.
The LWV/Hawaii met with HECO to discuss this problem. During this meeting, HECO stated that they. are going to continue to look for ways to protect the health of Hawaii's citizens without amending the Clean Air Act. HECO will ask the EPA to reevaluate emissions from the Kahe power plant and hopes that the results will allow burning of less costly higher sulfur fuels.
For more information, please refer to the Dollar and Sense of Environmental Regulations (#CA514, 1980) which can be ordered from the LWVUS, 1730 M Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.
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