U fined $30,000 for steam plant violations

by Mike Oakes

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency fined the University and New Jersey-based Foster Wheeler Corp. $30,000 Thursday for contractual violations surrounding the University’s steam plant system.
Since January 1999, all three University steam plants — the Southeast Plant, the Minneapolis Main Plant and the St. Paul Plant — have a combined eight violations, including excessive carbon monoxide emissions and failure to permanently decommission two boiler units.
The fine was part of a stipulated agreement between the University, MPCA and Foster Wheeler, and came as the University vied for an MPCA permit allowing it to open its Minneapolis Main Plant temporarily while it made necessary repairs on the Southeast Plant.
Rhonda Land, MPCA pollution control specialist, said the fine was served on the University because it owns the plants, and Foster Wheeler because it runs them.
“They have a permit for their steam plants together, so they’re co-permittees for their air emissions,” she said.
Land also said the University and Foster Wheeler amended seven of the eight infringements in the past year-and-a-half after MPCA tests confirmed the violations.
But two boilers in the Minneapolis Main Plant, scheduled to be decommissioned permanently by June 30, remain connected and shouldn’t be, Land said.
As part of the stipulation, the MPCA granted the permit to put the Minneapolis Main Plant back on-line temporarily.
Foster Wheeler and the University opened the Minneapolis Main Plant this past weekend to make repairs on boiler and turbine valves and control mechanisms at the Southeast Plant.
Eric Kruse, vice president for University services, said the Southeast Plant repairs were imperative “to ensure more reliable operation over the winter.”
University officials said the Southeast Plant would go back on-line late Monday night.
The MPCA granted the University and Foster Wheeler up to 15 days between Nov. 9 and Dec. 31 to put the Minneapolis Main Plant on-line. Foster Wheeler now has slightly less than 350 hours to make further improvements to the Southeast Plant if it so chooses.
Kruse said the University and Foster Wheeler will use that time to analyze operational issues at the Southeast Plant.
Land said while the Minneapolis Main Plant is on-line, it is required to burn only natural gas.
Foster Wheeler burns coal and wood chips, in addition to natural gas, at its other University plants.
The University has already paid the fine, Kruse said, and are in talks with Foster Wheeler about how best to appropriate the payment.
“It was more important to get the work done, and we simply decided we’ll pay (the fine) and we’ll discuss it with Foster Wheeler after the fact,” he said.
Pat Mader, MPCA enforcement supervisor for Minnesota’s south district, said he isn’t surprised by the fine, and $30,000 is average when dealing with power plants.
“Just like any other industry, there are some problems with steam plants, and they have to really look at what they’re doing and make sure they’re in compliance with their permit,” Mader said.

Mike Oakes welcomes comments at moak[email protected]. He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3216