USC's new $17 million energy plant will crank up early next year without the extra pollution control equipment that some neighborhood leaders believe will protect air quality near the campus.
The equipment could reduce some air pollution by up to 90 percent but installing scrubbers could cost USC more than $1 million, state and university officials said at a public meeting Tuesday night.
State regulators did not require the equipment in the university's air permit, which was approved quietly last summer. State health officials say they don't expect unsafe levels of air pollution to leave the plant.
But the Department of Health and Environmental Control said it might require scrubbers if the plant pumps out more air pollution than projected.
The plant is expected to begin operating in early 2007. Soon after, a major air pollution test will be done to determine whether pollution projections are accurate.
Myra Reece, DHEC's air bureau chief, pledged to monitor the plant's emissions.
"We know this facility is a concern to a lot of residents in the community,'' Reece said.
The energy plant, the first of its particular design in the U.S., will use wood chips from sawmills to provide heat to university classrooms, dorms and offices.
Modeled after a similar facility in western Canada, it is on the cutting edge of alternative energy technology, university officials say. The untreated wood will be "virgin'' scraps from saw mills, university and DHEC officials said. About 14 truckloads of chips would supply the plant daily.
Residents of neighborhoods near the campus said they knew little about the plant until after permits were granted. They have expressed concern about particulate matter - fine particles akin to soot - the plant will release.
Particulate matter can become buried deep inside the lungs and cause an array of health problems. People with asthma or other respiratory disorders are particularly susceptible. What constitutes a safe level of particulate matter is a topic of debate nationally.
The plant will provide 85 percent of the steam for the campus and replace much of its natural gas heating system. It is expected to save nearly $2 million a year in energy costs and would be used past 2020, according to university officials.
USC's "biomass'' energy plant, at Whaley and Sumter Streets is part of a push to make the campus more energy efficient. It will largely replace natural gas, a fossil fuel, with a renewable source of energy, wood chips, university officials say.
About 40 people attended the DHEC meeting at City Hall.
Many said they were encouraged that DHEC would watch the plant, but some said they prefer to have the pollution control equipment on the biomass plant. Others said they wish DHEC had done a better job informing the public before permits were issued. Reece conceded the agency could have done a better job.
"It was a good meeting, but one concern is that this meeting didn't happen before this permit was issued,'' said Kathryn Luchok, a Hollywood-Rose Hill neighborhood resident. "I'm still concerned'' about the environmental effects.
Reach Fretwell at (803) 771-8537.