Southport Power Plant to Cease Operating

During a public hearing in November 2019, Southport resident William North holds a bag filled with wipes used to clean black, greasy residue off porch railings and other outdoor surfaces of homes in his neighborhood near the CPI plant. Photo: Trista Talton

A small power plant near Southport fined by the state last year for not complying with air quality standards is shutting down next year.

CPI USA North Carolina LLC plans to cease operating by March 31, 2021, according to a draft special order by consent, or SOC, between the company and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality.

The company’s current SOC, which was granted by the state Environmental Management Commission in 2016, will expire at the end of this year. The consent order was issued after the state determined plant emissions of sulfur dioxide exceeded the National Ambient Air Quality Standard.

A facility may be given a consent order if it is unable to consistently comply with the terms, conditions or limitations in a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, permit because of problems related to, for example, design of infrastructure.

Under the terms of the proposed order, CPI must reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide it releases into the air and “cease operation of all emissions sources” at the plant and request DAQ rescind its air permit no later than March 31.

The plant has failed to meet state and federal air quality standards over the years, raising concerns of nearby Brunswick County residents who say they’ve become accustomed to wiping down porch railings and outdoor furniture coated by ash from the plant.

Southport resident William North in a recent telephone interview described the black, sticky coating as a “oily soot.”

“If you’re breathing that in and it’s contaminating the soil, that’s unconscionable,” he said. “What they were doing is unconscionable. They definitely downgraded our quality of life around the plant and it was unnecessary. They could have taken care of all of that.”

North was one of several Brunswick County residents who expressed a number of concerns last November to DEQ officials at a public hearing about the company’s application for two NPDES permits – one for wastewater discharge and the other for stormwater discharge.

Residents from Southport and nearby beach towns urged state officials for more oversight at the plant, raising questions about the types of chemicals that accumulate in wastewater and stormwater outfalls at the plant, sufficient monitoring of those chemicals and the potential effects of water and air discharges on wildlife, human health and the environment.

Ann Carey told state officials at that meeting that, before buying her home in Southport, she had never lived in a place where black residue had to be wiped off outdoor surfaces.

“I had heard a rumor about CPI planning to close in March and am very pleased to have that news confirmed,” Carey said in an email. “I have no problem with a one-time short extension of the Air Quality permit to coincide with their planned closure in March.”

Carole Kozloski has also become accustomed to wiping down outdoor surfaces at her Southport home.

She said in a recent telephone interview that she has noticed a difference since the public hearing last year.

“The plant has done a very good job of taking heed to what was said at the public hearing,” Kozloski said. “I don’t know what they’ve done, but I can say it was noticeable. I still see ash but it’s not really as bad in our backyard as it has been previously. It’s definitely still there. It is still a detriment to our neighborhood. They know that they’re not in compliance. They know that it would be very costly to be in compliance, and if they can’t be in compliance they need to close.”

In January 2017, the company received a notice of violation for failing to get a prevention of significant deterioration, or PSD, permit before beginning construction to retrofit the plant’s six boilers with sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides controls.

DAQ issued that violation after the facility turned over in February 2016 its first annual emissions report, which showed that actual emissions of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter were “significantly” higher than the company’s projected emissions, according to state records.

The company was fined more than $470,000 in December for failing to obtain the PSD permit and failing to operate the appropriate controls to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions.

In January, CPI filed a petition in the state Office of Administrative Hearings challenging the civil penalty, arguing it was not required to obtain a PSD permit because of increases in sulfur dioxide emissions and that it had stayed in compliance with state and federal permit regulations.

The company paid the fine the following month.

Under the new proposed order, the commission and company agree to resolve the dispute over the PSD permit requirements as long as the plant tightens sulfur dioxide emissions, requests its permit be rescinded and ends operations of all emissions sources by March 31, 2021.

Leslie Griffith, a staff attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Chapel Hill office, said in an email that staff is evaluating the details of the draft consent order, “but we are pleased that DEQ has recognized it’s time for this polluting plant to shut down.”

“Like its sister plant in Roxboro, CPI Southport burns a toxic mix of coal, shredded tires, and treated wood like railroad ties,” she said. “Even though the plant emits as much harmful sulfur dioxide pollution as a much larger coal-fired power plant, it has evaded required Clean Air Act permitting and pollution protections for more than a decade. This SOC requires the Southport plant to shut down by the end of March 2021 and meet tighter emission limits for sulfur dioxide pollution in the remaining months of its operation. The bottom line is a win for the local community and for cleaner energy.”

CPI USA North Carolina LLC, a holding company of Capital Power of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, has operated the plant since 2006.

The 88-megawatt-capacity plant sells electric power to Duke Energy and steam power to Archer Daniels Midland, a food processing company with operations in Southport.

The CPI plant produces about 400,000 gallons of wastewater a day.

The wastewater and stormwater discharge are routed into the same canal used by Brunswick Steam Electric Power Station operated by Duke Energy. A combined 2 billion gallons per day of effluent from the two plants travels from the canal into a pipe buried under the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway before discharging into the Atlantic Ocean about 2,000 feet off Caswell Beach.

“The bottom line is that we are glad to hear that the plant is closing,” North said. “I will welcome the benefits it will bring not only for my generation and my neighborhood, but for the people who will follow us (living) in this area.”

About the Author

Trista Talton

Trista Talton is a native North Carolinian who, shortly after graduating from Appalachian State University in 1996, took her first newspaper job as a reporter for the Hickory Daily Record. She has since migrated to the coast, covering everything from education and local governments to law enforcement, the environment and the military, including an embed with Marines in Kuwait for the start of the Iraq war in 2003. She has been a Coastal Review Online contributing writer since 2011 focusing on coastal-related issues from Onslow to Brunswick counties. She lives with her husband and two sons in Jacksonville.