Environmental conservation groups want the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to fine one of the nation’s largest electric utility companies for killing millions of fish each year at the company’s Bay Shore power plant on Lake Erie.
The Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper Association and the Ohio Environmental Council charge that the department should use its legal authority to fine First Energy Corp. for the massive fish kills just as a game warden would fine a weekend angler or commercial fisherman who exceeded their daily catch limit.
“To catch and then eat the fish, we need a license and there are rules and penalties that trigger when more than six walleye and 25 perch are caught in a day. EPA studies show that 24,000 walleye and 12,000 of various size walleye and perch, on average, are killed every day. Yet FirstEnergy pays nothing and does little to nothing to reduce the kills,” said Sandy Bihn, director of the Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper Association.
The Bay Shore power plant is a prodigious killing machine, environmentalists say. According to a 2008 EPA briefing paper delivered to its director Chris Korleski, Bay Shore “probably impinges and entrains more organisms than all of the other power plants in Ohio combined.”
Ohio EPA asked an independent environmental engineering firm, Tetra Tech, Inc., to examine FirstEnergy’s studies and the technologies available to reduce the Bay Shore intake system’s impact on fish and determine which ones would work best at the plant.
The analysis Tetra Tech estimates that the Bay Shore power plant:
• kills more than 46 million fish each year when fish are slammed and caught (called impingement) against its cooling water intake system screens.
• killed more than 14 million juvenile fish and more than two billion fish in their larval form when they passed through the water intake screens and passed through equipment inside the power plant during the 2005-06 sampling period.
The power plant has operated for 54 years. The facility is not known to employ any technologies that are typically considered effective for reducing fish kills.
The power plant is located where the Maumee River meets the Maumee Bay, one of the most ecologically sensitive and biologically productive areas in the Great Lakes region. The Maumee River is Lake Erie’s largest tributary and an important spawning area for walleye.
Under Ohio law, the public owns the fish in Lake Erie and it is unlawful to “take in any manner…any number or quantity of wild animals” without a license. The federal Clean Water Act requires electric generating facilities to use the best technology available to minimize environmental impacts.
“We caution that the cost of best technology available cannot be shifted to the utility giant’s ratepayers. The ratepayers have been paying for failed technology for 54 years, as well as paying for the restocking of certain prized fish,” said Kristy Meyer, director of Agriculture and Clean Water Programs of the Ohio Environmental Council.
“It is time that FirstEnergy Corp. be held accountable and require its shareholders to reimburse the citizens of Ohio for the millions of fish killed yearly. A robbery victim is not forced to reimburse its assailant, therefore the ratepayers should not have to burden the cost of installing the best technology available.”
Finding an Answer
The Ohio EPA held a public meeting Tuesday night at Wynn Elementary School, not far from the power plant in Oregon, to discuss Tetra Tech’s report and options for reducing impingement and entrainment of fish by the power plant’s cooling water intake system.
Ohio EPA is considering renewal of the plant’s wastewater discharge permit and may require improvements to reduce the facility’s environmental impact on Maumee Bay.
Answering questions for FirstEnergy was Scott Brown, and from the Ohio EPA Public Interest Center, Darla Peele, and from the Ohio EPA Division of Surface Water, Mike McCullough and Paul Novak. Peele was the moderator.
Some of the technology being considered by the EPA to control the fish kill includes physical barriers, diversion or avoidance technology, and technology to reduce flow reduction.
Methods that could be feasible, EPA officials say, include Ristoph Screens (would cost FirstEnergy $13 million), Intake Velocity Reduction ($17 million), and Wedgepoint Screens. Cooling strategies were also discussed, including construction of a cooling tower similar to what nuclear power plants use, and a cooling pond, which would need 600 acres of land.
Three cooling towers located south of the plant would cost nearly $75 million and would mean a 3.2 to 6.4 percent increase in electric bills to pay for it. The added expense would be $15 to $30 million per year, which includes a three percent energy loss available to sell on the grid.
Also discussed at Tuesday’s meeting, attending by nearly 150 people, was the thermal plume created by heated water discharged into Maumee Bay from the plant’s cooling system.
EPA officials said the cooling tower would have the greatest environmental impact, reducing the heat load discharged into Lake Erie by 90 percent and impingement/entrainment by 90 percent.
Frank Bihn, Sandy Bihn’s husband, alleged that the heated water was not allowing the lake to freeze along the shoreline where the couple resides, two miles from the plant. That is far down shore from where the Ohio EPA designates the plant’s mixing zone — the area where the heated water mixes with lake water.
“Why was there no ice two miles away?” Bihn asked. “Why is the plant having an affect in the temperature two miles down the shoreline?”
Bihn said in 1987 there used to be ice fishing along the shoreline near his home, but the water hasn’t frozen there since 1989.
“The discharge has increased quite a bit to go down that far. You have stopped all water activity at Maumee Bay. What are you going to do about that?” Bihn asked FirstEnergy officials.
A spokesman for FirstEnergy told Bihn the temperature and water flow has not increased, and EPA officials said the water temperature is rising in Lake Erie because of other factors.