TCEQ Pilot Plant PBRs
Air Permitting. It can be confusing, bewildering, and just downright complicated at times. Knowing how to calculate potential to emit (PTE) emissions, what type of authorization to use, and navigating the complex regulatory maze has often pushed many who are responsible for these authorizations into a corner in terms of how to comply with authorizations when they are issued.
There is a common misunderstanding amongst many that as long as you are under the PTE thresholds for your criteria pollutants that you are in compliance, regardless of the chemical makeup of that criteria pollutant. Many times, chemical processes used and actual end products or chemicals emitted differ from the representations in the permit application. This can result in a belief is that as long as the permitted activity is below the PTE limit that the activity is in compliance. Unfortunately, this may not be the case. At the end of the day, it’s about what your authorization (permit application and regulatory approved permit) represents to the agency that matters.
Today, we are in a fast-paced society where change is the norm and we must be able to be adaptable and dynamic. This is most especially noted in the chemical, high tech, and manufacturing sectors, where every day, new and innovative products and technologies are being developed and brought to the market. However, with these innovations and developments comes changes in how the product is manufactured, and oftentimes, it is something that is not currently covered by the manufacturing plant’s permitted authorization.
For years, the route that many companies have followed to seek preconstruction authorization was to obtain a New Source Review (NSR) permit, Standard Permit, or the ever-famous Permit by Rule (PBR), depending upon a variety of factors that characterize the operations at the facility. Once issued, these authorizations are often rigid and inflexible, leaving little wiggle room for deviation. As a result, the authorization would need to undergo an amendment or alteration in order to include new representations. These changes can lead to costly expenses, including permitting fees, consulting fees, and time lost while obtaining approval of activities not authorized.
In recent years, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has adopted and developed new authorizations that allow for such flexibility in emissions, thus giving owners and operators more flexibility that significantly reduces the regulatory and cost burden. Chapter 116, Subchapter G of Title 30 of the Texas Administrative Code (TAC) allows for Flexible Permits to be implemented for new and existing sources for those who are in this position.
However, another alternative is available to many facilities that are not authorized under a Flexible Permit, or who do not have frequent changes in conditions to justify having a Flexible Permit. Under 30 TAC Section 106.124, there exists a PBR authorization for Pilot Plants, which can save owners and operators significant time and money, and keep them flexible without having to apply for permanent changes to their authorization.
Pilot Plant PBRs
A “Pilot Plant” is defined by the TCEQ in the TAC “as a facility that is constructed and operated only for one of the following purposes:
(A) testing the manufacturing or marketing potential of a proposed product;
(B) defining the design of a larger plant; or
(C) studying the behavior of an existing plant through modeling in the pilot plant.”
For many facilities, this type of authorization allows for flexibility that could only be otherwise achieved via permit amendments for projects that may be short-term or temporary.
Additional parameters that govern this authorization are that the sum of product, co-product, or by-product design capacity shall not exceed 5 million pounds per year, operation of the pilot plant shall not occur beyond the fifth calendar year from the year of initial production, the pilot plant shall be located at least 500 feet from any recreational area or residence, new or increased emissions shall not exceed 6 lb/hr and 10 tpy, emissions shall not exceed 1 tpy at any individual stack, and that chemical-specific emissions limits shall not be exceeded as determined in 106.261(4) and 106.262(3).
The preceding PBR requirements may seem restrictive, but the overall intent of the rule is that this be a temporary solution to a potentially permanent issue. Most PBRs are structured in such a way that the rules are stringent and that the environment and overall public health are not affected so long as the rules set forth are adhered to. Most operators who utilize this type of authorization typically incorporate it into their permits when renewals or amendments are due or when the Pilot Plant PBR timeline expires.
There is no restriction on the number of pilot plants that are operating at a facility, so long as they are still operating under the confines of 106.4 and 106.124. There is no need to register the authorization with TCEQ, nor pay a permitting fee. The authorization is subject to recordkeeping requirements under 106.8 to demonstrate compliance with the rules, meaning that a copy of the claimed authorization must be kept on site.
If a facility can meet the requirements of a Pilot Plant PBR, it is a much more cost-effective route to take instead of doing an amendment or modification for a change in operations that may be brief or may require additional testing before final implementation. It saves time by not undergoing a full review at TCEQ, it saves money by not having to invest in costly amendments or fees, and it ensures that the production is occurring in an environmentally responsible manner by adhering to the strict guidelines of TCEQ PBRs.
Since 1983, Cook-Joyce has been providing quality environmental, engineering, and geological consulting services for the manufacturing, high tech, oil and gas, and healthcare sectors. Our staff of experienced professionals is here to assist you with any need you may have. If Pilot Plant PBRs seem like an option that could benefit your site or if you have any questions, call me at 512-474-9097 or email me at Joe.Pere@cook-joyce.com.
We look forward to hearing from you.