Final Internship Report
The objective of my internship was initially to examine the environmental impact that would result from the placement of multiple natural gas-fired electrical plants in the Walla Walla Basin and Umatilla Basin. However, as the internship progressed I began to realize that not only was the information I sought unavailable but that the issue at hand was indeed not environmental but instead political. As part of my internship I met with the Walla Walla County Commissioner as well as Dick German who serves as a consultant to the Walla Walla Planning Division.
Before I begin to further explain the political intricacies of natural gas power plants in our region, let me first give you an idea of what we’re dealing with.
In Alderdale, WA, there is currently a proposal for a 3-turbine plant that would provide 850 MW of energy. This plant would be located just two miles north of the Columbia River and is being proposed to the state by Cogentrix Energy based out of Portland, OR. This plant will cost approximately $425 million to build.
In Starbuck, WA, the proposal is for a 4-turbine plant that would produce 1200 MW of energy. This site would be several hundred feet from the Snake River, on a plateau. The plant is being proposed by Starbuck Power Company, which is based out of Bellevue, WA. The estimated cost of this plant is $535 million.
In Wallula, WA, near the Boise-Cascade Pulp Mill, there is a proposal for a 4-turbine plant that would produce 1300 MW. This site is located near the Columbia River just off of Hwy 12 and would draw its natural gas from a pipeline that is on the other side of the McNary Wildlife Refuge. This project is being proposed by Newport Northwest, which is based out of Mercer Island, WA. The project would cost an estimated $550 million.
In Morrow County, OR, there is currently under construction a 2-turbine plant that will be online in June 2002. This plant will produce 510 MW of energy along with 4.5 million tons of CO2 per year. Portland General Electric operates this site.
In Umatilla County, OR, there is a plant that has been operational since July 1996. This plant produces 468 MW and is currently operated by PG&E.
Also in Umatilla County, OR, is a plant still awaiting review and approval of several permit applications, however, construction is scheduled to begin in January 2002 and the plant should be online as soon as January 2004. This plant would produce 550 MW of energy and will be operated by PG&E.
In Hermiston, OR, which lies in Umatilla County, there is currently under construction a plant that will produce 546 MW of energy along with 6.7 million tons of CO2. This plant is to be operated by Calpine Gas Plant Operations Division and will be online in January 2003.
Currently being proposed by PG&E is another plant in Morrow County that would produce 550 MW of energy. This proposal was made on September 19, 2001, and is currently being reviewed by the Oregon State Office of Energy.
There has also been an application submitted and later withdrawn, in Walla Walla County. The application was for a peaker plant that would have produced less energy than the required 350 MW for review by the Energy Facility Sighting and Evaluation Council of Washington State (EFSEC). I shall discuss this plant in greater detail at a later point.
Few of these plants have submitted an estimate of their yearly CO2 emissions; however, let us use the Hermiston plant as a mean value for a Megawatt to CO2 emission ratio. The eight plants upwind of Walla Walla are the primary concern for the region so I shall evaluate the potential emissions from only these plants. The eight plants would produce 5,124 MW of energy per year and assuming the Hermiston ratio there would be 62.9 million tons of CO2 produced upwind from Walla Walla every year. Using the balanced reaction – one mole of methane produces one mole of carbon dioxide and two moles of water vapor; there would be 51.4 million tons of water vapor produced per year. The water vapor during temperature inversions would become fog within the Walla Walla River Basin. This happens to also be the river that Hwy 12 follows for many miles. These plants would make this stretch of frequently traveled highway much more dangerous than it already is.
Natural gas-fired electrical plants also produce SOX, NOX, CO, particulate matter, and a countless number of harmful organic compounds. Many would argue that these pollutants are not produced in a great enough quantity in order to actually endanger the local population or the environment, however, I would argue that during temperature inversions their argument does not hold. A temperature inversion creates a pocket of stagnate cold air that becomes trapped under a layer of warmer air. The pollution generated by these plants would not just blow away and dissipate during these periods like it would during the summer, instead these pollutants would settle in our region further encouraging the temperature inversion and causing greater harm.
Earlier I mentioned that this internship developed into more than just an environmental audit of these facilities. When I met with Commissioner Ray of Walla Walla County, she enlightened me to the fact that these plants are so important to the county financially that the environmental impact is of little concern. In a way, she alluded to the placement of plants within the county as a form of revenge, punishing voters who approved State Initiative 695. The initiative was intended to streamline local governments by reducing the amount of state subsidy they received, however, Walla Walla County has instead decided that in order to counter the effect of this change the county will instead invite big industry to Walla Walla county. Why is the county encouraging big industry, like power facilities, to come to our region? Because industry means taxes. We try to make our government responsible to us, and they in turn pour pollution down on us. Poetic Justice? I think not.
I had originally hoped for this internship to be more activism oriented, however, there were so many tangents I found myself following that in the end all I have is a lot of information and a new perspective. If I were to continue this internship I would begin by contacting the Union Bulletin, the EPA, and the Whitman Insurgency.
One positive has come out of this situation during the last several months
– the county is forming a committee to create a process that all energy facilities
shall go through in Walla Walla County if they do not meet the EFSEC requirement.
Plants that meet this criterion are wind facilities and peaker plants, like
the one discussed earlier. Many would speculate that the peaker plant application
was withdrawn due to the creation of this committee.