Rules for emergency generators

Is yours in compliance with state requirements?


All fuel-burning emergency generators that exceed a certain power threshold, either singly or as a group, are required to be permitted by the NH Department of Environmental Services Air Resources Division prior to installation.

In lieu of requiring an individual operating permit for each affected generator, NHDES has promulgated by rule a General State Permit that is available to owners of affected emergency generators.

The current general state permit (GSP) for “Internal Combustion Engines – Emergency Generators or Fire Pump Engines” became effective in April 2015 and is valid for five years. NHDES intends to renew the GSP prior to the 2020 expiration date. While the GSP for emergency generators has been in place since 1998, the reporting and fee requirements have changed.

In order to reduce the regulatory burden on businesses, NHDES eliminated the annual emission-based fee and emission report and replaced it with a registration fee due once every five years. The fee for the current five-year term is $1,279.20, but is prorated by year according to the date of registration.

In addition, NHDES has established an online GSP permitting program through which applicants can easily apply for a permit under the GSP, as well as submit requests for permit amendments. There is no fee for adding or removing emergency generators under an existing permit, or for transferring coverage to a new entity.

The permitting portal is available on the NHDES website through the “One-Stop Data and Information System.”

For generators burning liquid fuel oil (diesel, No. 2 fuel oil, etc.), coverage under the GSP is required for any facility that is planning on installing a single emergency generator rated at greater than 1.5 million Btu per hour (MMBtu/hr), or a series of emergency generators each individually rated at greater than 0.15 MMBtu/hr and that has a combined rating of greater than or equal to 1.5 MMBtu/hr.( 1.5 MMBtu/hr is roughly equivalent to 440 Kw.)

For generators burning gaseous fuel or liquefied propane gas, coverage under the GSP is required for an individual unit rated at 10 MMBtu/hr or for a series of generators each individually rated at greater than 1.5 MMBtu/hr and that has a combined rating of greater than or equal to 10 MMBtu/hr.

As of July 1, 2016, there are 352 sources permitted under the GSP for emergency generators. The Air Resources Division believes that there are many additional emergency generators that have been installed without proper permitting.

Specifically, to remain in compliance with the GSP, emergency generators must operate only during emergency situations, such as when the local electric supply is interrupted, or during normal maintenance and testing of the engines. Load shaving or peaking power production units are excluded from the GSP. Further, only low-sulfur fuels may be used, and the facility must keep accurate records of all hours the engine was in operation and the purpose for each hour of operation.

Failure to register an affected emergency generator under the GSP could expose a business to significant penalties. Operating, or even installing, an emergency generator over the permitting threshold is a violation of state law and can be penalized by an administrative fine of up to $2,000 or a civil penalty of up to $25,000 per day for a continuing violation.

In practice, when unpermitted emergency generators come to the attention of the Air Resources Division, the facility is reminded of its obligation to register under the GSP and to pay the applicable fee, which, in the case of previously installed, unpermitted generators, is the full five-year fee. The facility will also typically receive a notice of past violation (NPV) by mail. Repeat violators and violators whose generators are exceeding hour or emission limitations are more likely to be assessed a monetary penalty.

Although the operation of an individual emergency generator may not itself have a significant effect on air quality, together these engines can have a real impact on air quality and public health. Emissions from diesel or fuel oil generators include carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter, as well as other toxic air pollutants.

These pollutants negatively affect people’s health and contribute to asthma rates, especially among the young and old. The GSP system helps to protect public health and the environment by ensuring that emergency generators are only used for emergency purposes and that their emissions are minimized.

Evan Mulholland is administrator of the NH Division of Air Resources’ Compliance Bureau. This article originally appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of NH Bar News.

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