Jackson spends more than $750,000 to reduce backup generator emissions

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

EDITOR'S NOTE: The name of the company that sold the exhaust systems has been changed.

Jackson officials consented to purchase expensive, federally mandated emissions equipment last week, but feel the local environment and customers would be better served if the money were spent differently.

The board of aldermen approved a purchase of $759,948 from Farabee Mechanical Inc., of Hickman, Neb., for what City Administrator Jim Roach called "fancy mufflers" for the city's backup electrical generators.

Jackson is its own electrical utility entity and has provided electricity to its residents for more than 100 years, Roach said. These days, the city is connected to major sources of electricity through Ameren Missouri, but it remains independent. In the event of a power outage, Jackson has backup generators that keep the lights on.

Those emergency units usually operate no more than a few days a year, said Roach, but they are subject to regulations established in 2010 by the Environmental Protection Agency that require they be upgraded.

The acronym for the EPA ruling is RICE NESHAP, which stands for Reciprocating Internal Combustion Engines National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants.

The standards are intended to reduce emissions of toxic air pollutants such as

formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acrolein, methanol and others from several kinds of previously unregulated stationary engines. According to its website, the EPA estimates that approximately 900,000 such engines across the country will be subject to guidelines created in an effort to reduce cancer-causing emissions by 2013.

Don Schuette, director of electric utilities for Jackson Power and Light, said he and the city are interested in environmentally friendly practices, but that pricey improvements mandated by the EPA have little positive

impact.

"I'd love to spend money that would reduce our carbon footprint," Schuette said.

Schuette and Roach had suggestions for how they'd like to do that, such as retrofitting the city's streetlights with light-emitting diode, or LED, bulbs that would use less energy, be better for the environment and save money.

They'd like to see the city install LED streetlights "from Walmart to Center Junction" and put some utilities underground to reduce problems caused by ice and snow. However, they say funds that could go to those projects have routinely been allocated to meeting federal regulations.

"This goes right to the ratepayers," said Roach.

Rates have at least doubled over the last 15 years due to a series of EPA mandates combined with the rising costs of fuels, Roach said.

Schuette said the city tries to keep rates as low as possible and that required expenditures and increases with little meaningful benefit are frustrating.

At the same time, city officials say they've been committed to keeping Jackson equipped to handle any power interruptions.

"At the end of the day, when you flip that light switch on, you expect it to come on," Schuette

said.

Jackson has taken four generators out of regular usage as a cost-saving measure, which will lower production capacity but still meet the city's

needs.

Other small municipal providers have not managed to maintain emergency services, Roach said. Some have mothballed their generators because they can't afford to keep up with improvements. This winter, he expects when weather causes problems, those areas will be left "in the dark."

Roach said no rate increases are planned for 2012. The effects of recent regulation expenditures will be taken into consideration during budgeting talks next

year.

salderman@semissourian.com

388-3648

Pertinent address:

Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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