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Air Quality Permits for Generators

Clean Air Act 1970

Clean Air Environment
A generator is an ideal source of backup power for homes and business establishments. In addition to providing a supply of backup power, it also helps to ensure that critical equipment is not shut down or damaged as a result of power outages.

One thing to keep in mind when choosing a generator is that most of these units burn a fossil fuel to generate electricity. This fuel could be diesel, bio-diesel, natural gas, gasoline, or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). Whenever fuel is burnt, there is obviously some level of air pollution released in the form of exhaust gases. In the United States, there are many federal, state, and local regulations that govern the discharge of these pollutants into the atmosphere. Most of these regulations are based on the requirements of the Clean Air Act of 1970. The Clean Air Act primarily regulates air emissions from stationary and mobile sources. It also establishes air quality standards to regulate the emissions of hazardous air pollutants. The Act has established National Ambient Air Quality Standards that are enforced at the state and local levels through various local regulations. Overall enforcement of these standards is entrusted to the Environmental Protection Agency. You can read more about the Clean Air Act at the official website of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The standards laid down in the Clean Air Act are enforced through state and local regulations by issuing air quality permits. These permits, which are issued by local air pollution control organizations, or in some cases the EPA, specify enforceable conditions regarding the limit of air pollution with which establishments must comply. You can find out more about local air pollution control authorities at the EPA website.

Most permits are valid for five years and will involve payment of an annual fee. Although regulations regarding air quality permits vary from state to state, there are some common points that are more or less uniformly applicable across most states. Some of these points that should be kept in mind are as follows:
  • Most permanent generator installations require a permit. You should contact your local air pollution control authority to determine what permits are required. Keep in mind that in addition to air quality permits, you may be required to obtain additional permits pertaining to safety and noise pollution.
  • The permit should be obtained prior to installation of the generator. The company that is installing your generator set may be able to guide you through the process of acquiring the required permits. Most companies will not start the installation process without a valid permit.
  • Small, portable generator sets under 40kW or so are typically not required to get a permit but you need to check with your state and local government to confirm for your area as the laws can vary greatly.
  • Generators that run on natural gas release fewer emissions of greenhouse gases as compared to diesel generators. This can be beneficial when obtaining permits, but does also limit your fuel source to the local natural gas lines, which can often be problematic during natural disasters if the line goes out.

Emergency Generators

Emergency Generator
Most establishments only require generators to provide backup power supply in the event that the main power from the utility line fails. Such generators are classified as emergency generators. These generators typically have to clear less stringent requirements to obtain an air quality permit. However, in order for a generator to be classified as an emergency generator, it must also comply with a number of requirements, some of which are outlined below:
  1. The generator must only be operated in the event of failure of the main power supply from the utility line.
  2. The generator must not be run for a period exceeding a total of 200 to 500 hours per year. Please note that this figure varies from state to state, and you should check your local regulations to determine the appropriate number of running hours.
Air quality permit requirements may be waived for smaller generators that are only for home use. Similarly, there are also restrictions on the maximum power that can be generated by emergency generators. As part of the certification process, you will be required to maintain a log of the running hours of the generator. Do keep in mind that if you exceed the permissible number of running hours in a year for your emergency generator, severe fines and penalties may be imposed.

Applying for an Air Quality Permit

Carbon DioxideMost air quality permits are issued by the State Department of Environmental Quality
  • The first step in this process is to determine whether your establishment qualifies as a minor or major source of emission. Most emergency generator sets will qualify as minor sources of emissions. Additional steps are:
  • All states also have minimum emission levels, and if your generator set does not emit gases above these minimum levels, you may be exempt from the permit process altogether.
  • Another important factor is the area in which your establishment operates. Establishments in large cities may be allowed a greater leeway in emission standards as compared to establishments that operate in areas that have been classified as non-attainment areas. For example, generator sets in New York City are permitted higher levels of emission than in most other rural areas.
  • Once the various factors that decide the category your equipment falls under have been identified, the state will specify the amount of emission that is permitted for your establishment. You will have to implement various safeguards and checks to ensure that these emission requirements are maintained and will also have to comply with the technical requirements for your equipment as set down by the state. This process is greatly simplified if you employ the services of a company that designs and installs generator sets that meet the mandated state requirements.




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