News and views, and history and humor, about the lake I love.

"I can hear my granddad's stories of the storms out on Lake Erie, where vessels and cargos and fortunes, and sailors' lives were lost." ~ James Taylor, Millworker

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Running the Bay Shore Gauntlet, or "You couldn’t pick a worse place to locate a power plant if you tried"

Imagine for just a moment you are an emerald shiner and you're swimming along the Lake Erie shore, minding your own business when, suddenly, you're gripped by a powerful current. Struggling with all your might, you try to break free but the current is too strong. Without warning you slam into something hard and unyielding - an intake screen. Don't look now, you've been impinged!

But wait. A little guy, you're lucky enough to slip through the mesh of the screen. But you're relief is short-lived. You have been sucked into the cooling system of the Bay Shore power plant and certain death awaits you. You've been entrained!

Gentner Consulting Group photo
Bay Shore is a coal-burning power plant located in Oregon, Ohio, near Toledo. (above photo) The plant killed 46 million adult fish and 14 million juveniles a year, either by impingement or entrainment, when operating at full capacity before three of its four units were at least temporarily idled. More than half - 24 million emerald shiners and 14 million gizzard shad - were bait fish that supported the Great Lakes region's $7 billion fishery. About $1 billion of that economic impact is in Ohio alone.

Past records submitted by the utility also showed an estimated 209 million fish eggs and 2.2 trillion microscopic fish in their larval form being pulled through screens and killed inside the plant each year when the station was running at full capacity. Environmental groups, including the Ohio Environmental Council, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Lake Erie Waterkeeper want FirstEnergy to install cooling towers at the Bay Shore plant at a cost of about $100 million. Cooling towers greatly reduce water intake and reduce fish mortalities by 95 percent. FirstEnergy has said it will close Bay Shore if it is forced to install a cooling tower.

Instead, FirstEnergy recently received approval from Ohio EPA to install a fish-saving device at the Bay Shore plant consisting of a row of shutterlike panels called reverse louvers in the water of the plant's intake channel. The louvers are supposed to divert fish and their larvae away from the plant but critics claim the device is unproven. Lake Erie Waterkeeper also says the 24 days that Ohio EPA took to review the application for approving the permit to use the device was insufficient to truly assess the effectiveness of the device. 

In lashing out recently at the EPA's cooling water rules, the New York state clean water advocacy group Riverkeeper took particular aim at the Bay Shore plant:
There’s no better poster child for why a strong EPA cooling water rule is necessary than the FirstEnergy Bayshore Power Plant in Oregon, Ohio. In the absence of strong national standards from U.S. EPA, the Bayshore plant and a number of other plants ringing Lake Erie have been allowed to continue using once-through cooling. When operating at full capacity, the Bayshore plant sucks up over 700 million gallons of water per day in the middle of Maumee Bay in Western Lake Erie, the most productive fishery in the Great Lakes. You couldn’t pick a worse place to locate a power plant if you tried.
Citing the lackluster economy, low demand for power, and pending federal rules tightening emission standards, on August 12, 2010, FirstEnergy announced it was throttling back power production at three of four boilers at the Bay Shore Plant for the next three years. The largest Bay Shore unit, which burns petroleum coke from the nearby BP/Husky oil refinery, will continue operating.
As if the massive fish kills weren't enough, the increased water temperatures resulting from the Bay Shore's discharge into western Lake Erie is no doubt exacerbating the already serious algal bloom problem we've been reporting on in this blog.

Thermal plume from the Bay Shore plant as of 8-21-2002 (Gentner Consulting Group)
The focus on the massive fish kills at Bay Shore should, of course, not distract from what the plant puts into the air. In 2000 and again in 2004, the firm Abt Associates issued a study commissioned by the Clean Air Task Force quantifying the deaths and other health affects attributable to the fine particle pollution from these power plants. The report finds that over 13,000 deaths each year are attributable to fine particle pollution from U.S. power plants. An interactive map graphically displays the risk at various locations. Its easy to see that the greatest impact is in the midwest in the Ohio Valley region.

That sucks.

The Bay Shore plant raises questions far more profound the the simple killing of fish, as immediate and costly as that is. Clearly, we need energy, but at what cost? How important is it to have clean water and air? Its an important question. And its in your face.

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