The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) last week renewed a wastewater discharge permit for FirstEnergy’s Bay Shore power plant in Oregon. The agency also granted the power plant a variance to water quality standards for mercury. The permit and variance are for a period of 4 ½ years.
The permit includes modifications requiring the company to reduce fish mortality due to the operation of the plant’s cooling water system, according to Dina Pierce, northwest district media coordinator for the Ohio EPA.
Millions of fish, their eggs and larvae each year are caught and killed by the plant’s cooling water screens.
As a result, the permit requires FirstEnergy to reduce fish impingement by 80 percent and entrainment by 60 percent by April 1, 2013, through technology improvements at the facility and/or operational changes, according to Pierce. Impingement occurs when fish and shellfish are trapped against the plant’s cooling water intake screens. Entrainment occurs when fish eggs and larvae are drawn into the cooling water system.
The plant is where the Maumee River empties into Lake Erie, a major spawning ground for fish. “We have taken the first step to address unacceptable fish mortality at the facility and I’m pleased that FirsEnergy will be taking appropriate measures to protect this important Ohio natural resource,” Ohio EPA Director Chris Korleski said in a release.
The deadline to meet reduction requirements was moved up from Oct. 1, 2014 to reduce two peak seasons of fish kills, which are highest during the April to June fish migration period, according to Pierce.
Oregon Councilman Sandy Bihn, who is also Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper applauded the Ohio EPA for setting timely dates for reducing fish kills. “But there is no requirement to pay for the fish kills and/or count the fish kills by day, week, month or year until the yet unknown technology is installed,” she said.
Bay Shore will install devices called “reverse louvers” to reduce fish kills, but Bihn said it is inadequate because they have not been used in a coal-fired power plant and do not work for tiny fish that would need a bypass.
“The permit fails to require known technology - cooling towers - that will reduce all kills by 95%," said Bihn.
It would cost an estimated $100 million to install a cooling tower.
Pierce said if the reverse louvers do not work, Ohio EPA will require the company to find another alternative.
“Cooling towers are not off the table as far as Ohio EPA is concerned. However, we recognize that cooling towers are by far the most expensive option and therefore are allowing FirstEnergy to find other means of reducing fish mortality that is more affordable,” she said.
Power plants account for 80% of Lake Erie’s water use, according to the United State Geological Survey, she noted. In western Lake Erie there are five power plants. “Two nuclear plants have cooling towers that reduce water use to less than 100 million gallons a day – thus reducing fish kills by an estimated 95%. The three coal-fired power plants - Bay Shore, Whiting Consumers in Erie, Mich., and Monroe Detroit Edison - collectively use 3 billion gallons of water a day and kill millions of juvenile fish and billions of larval fish. These plants have failed to install cooling towers,” she said.
While the coal fired power plants in Western Lake Erie kill millions of fish caught against the screens, fishermen are heavily regulated by the state for perch, walleye and bass catches, she added.
“Catch more fish than the law allows, get fined, lose your license and you could go to jail. Ohio EPA and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) allow the Bay Shore power plant to kill as many fish as they want, when they want, with no fines or penalties. Other businesses that have spills are fined by ODNR,” said Bihn.
It is estimated that the billions of larval fish killed and millions of juvenile fish killed at Bay Shore result in an economic loss of $29.7 million per year, she said.
“Lake Erie is an important economic resource for Ohio, accounting for over 10,000 jobs and over $1 billion to Ohio’s economy. Why then does one of the Great Lakes’ largest fish kill power plant get away with no natural damages payment? Ohio businesses that have spills, and fishermen that catch over the limit, get fined and pay. Michigan requires the Ludington power plant, owned by Consumers Power and Detroit Edison, to pay millions each year for fish kills. Why is Ohio failing to assess damages for the massive Bayshore fish kills?”
Pierce said the Ohio EPA has no legal authority to fine anyone specifically for fish kills.
“Ohio EPA can and does fine companies and individuals for illegal discharges into Ohio waters whether or not they cause fish kills. ODNR has a system in place to assess penalties for fish kills that result from illegal discharges and spills. This is not what is occurring at FirstEnergy. I don't think there is anything in Ohio law that would allow the state to penalize a company for fish kills that occur due to water intake systems,” said Pierce.