Leslie Hickey
Final Internship Report
7 May 2002

Assessment of Gas Turbines on Air Quality in Walla Walla Valley

The purpose of my internship is to examine the possible environmental impacts of proposed gas-fired power plants in the Walla Walla Valley. My goals and objectives were to learn as much as possible about the subject, to apply my knowledge (writing letters, etc.) and to share my knowledge with the community. I began this purpose by reading excerpts from the original application from Wallula Generation, L.L.C and the DEIS. As my work has continued through the semester, a peaker plant (of 225 MW) proposed to be built three miles East of Wallula in May of 2001 was withdrawn and instead I have focused my attention on the 1300 MW 4-turbine gas power plant proposed just outside of Wallula, Washington. While Wallula, with four gas turbines, will be closest to home, there are 16 total proposed or just completed gas turbines contained within greater eastern Washington and Oregon that could possibly have an effect on the Walla Walla Valley. In my internship, I have used Wallula as a microcosm for potential environmental effects throughout the state as a result of gas turbines.

It seems that southeastern Washington and northeastern Oregon will soon become the energy producing capitals of the Northwest. Along with Wallula, in Alderdale, WA there is a proposal for a 3-turbine plant that would produce 850 MW of energy and in Starbuck, WA there is a proposal for a 4-turbine plant that would produce 1200 MW of energy if approved. Although the Starbuck plant will most likely not have a grave impact on the Walla Walla Valley, there is also a plant in Umatilla country, OR, operational since July 1996 which produces 468 MW of energy and another proposed for the area that would produce 550 MW of energy and production is scheduled for January of 2002. Finally, in Hermiston, OR there is currently under construction a plant that will produce 546 MW of energy when complete. I have often asked myself: how much of this energy does the Northwest really need?--or will these power plants perpetrate a boom of energy that could be sold to, for example, California without considering an eventual bust that must result from a nonrenewable energy source. And what sort of havoc will these plants render to our environment?

The environmental impact should be of the utmost importance when considering whether a power plant should be built or not. Often the politics or the promises of economic growth are the driving force behind such proposals and the environmental impact is lost and remembered only after a significant footprint on water or air quality has been felt. Although gas-fired power plants burn significantly cleaner than coal or oil, natural gas is still a fossil fuel. Not only do fossil fuels equal non-renewable resources, they also equal carbon dioxide and water vapor. The following is an unbalanced equation of a gas-fired turbine:

CH4 + O2 ® CO2 +H2Ov

Although carbon dioxide emissions are a major environmental problem worldwide for global warming, the water vapor released from the turbines reflect a greater problem for Walla Walla Valley. The Walla Walla Valley is already an area with compromised air quality. The combination of agriculture, dust and other particulates with the new gas turbines and their carbon dioxide could result in greater degradation of air quality. This would not be such a problem if Walla Walla Valley were not subject to significant temperature inversions that can cover the valley floor for most days out of the winter months. A temperature inversion is created when a layer of warm air traps a layer of cooler air closer to the ground. This cooler and denser air cannot rise through the warm layer; if pollutants are trapped within this cool layer, they can and will remain there for hours or even days creating a harmful environment for vegetation, animals and people alike. Will the steam released from the turbines add more water vapor in the air and therefore create an unstable area where temperature inversions will increase in their frequency and duration? Perhaps the answer to this question will only be known if or, more likely, when the Wallula Power Project is constructed.

Expected Releases from the Wallula Power Project

Because most of the Walla Walla Valley is a nonattainment area for particulates, and because we often have particulates and dust polluting our air, 302.8 tons per year of PM10’s is more than the maximum emission requirement. To offset this release of more particulates, Wallula plans to buy up 1300 acres of working farmland. Although this will balance the particulate emission problem, what do the area farmers think about this plan? All of the other emissions, even if they are under the maximum that the law requires, will still affect the global health of the planet, contributing in their own small way to global warming.

Finally, natural gas is a limited resource, therefore making a gas-fired power plant a commodity that will not hold well economically fifty or a hundred years from now. I know that this is not the primary focus of my internship, but I feel compelled to talk about the Wallula plant that could potentially create a boom and bust economy for the small town of Wallula. In Wallula Generation LLC’s proposal beginning under section 3-101 the availability of natural gas is discussed. They claim that “even the most conservative experts say North America has enough natural gas potential for the next 40 years of demand and some experts, such as ICF Kaiser indicate 95 years” (section 3-104). If natural gas is in high demand now because it can be produced domestically, the same could have been said about oil one hundred years ago, and now America must depend on foreign oil, or drill in ANWR, but that is another discussion altogether.

After completing my internship, I would like to see the Wallula Power Project not constructed. I believe that more sustainable energy sources should be investigated and applied in the Walla Walla Valley because of our already compromised air quality. I also believe that we need to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels, and what better time than the present to do so.

The information for most of my internship has been collected from Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council of Washington, the Wallula Generation LLC proposal to EFSEC and various charts and handouts provided from Bob Carson. In the following pages, I have included maps of the proposed project, an area map, and a copy of the letter I sent to Allen Fiksdal, Manager of EFSEC. The letter was sent during the comment period on the DEIS. As a part of my internship, I also wrote two editorials to Whitman’s Pioneer and the Union Bulletin. Unfortunately, both of these letters were not published. During the spring semester there has been only one public hearing about the Wallula Power Project and it was during spring break and I was unable to attend.

Although this internship has been a big time commitment and a lot of reading, it has also been a valuable learning experience to me. Not only did I learn about gas-fired power plants and potential pollution, I also learned about the features of the Walla Walla Valley including temperature inversions and existent air quality. The public response to the Wallula Power Project has been practically non-existent. No one seems to care that a large power plant will most likely be built just downwind of Walla Walla. Perhaps the mitigation and tax breaks are more important than the potential degradation of the area’s air quality.

In the future, I would recommend this internship to be not only research-oriented, but for the next intern to share their knowledge with the community and generate awareness about power plants, fossil fuels and global warming. I wished that I had started generating awareness earlier in my internship. The major problem of my internship was that my editorials did not get published in each newspaper to which they were sent. If such a thing happens again in the future, the intern should keep calling the newspaper to find out why. The key contacts of this internship are Bob Carson and EFSEC. EFSEC has a good web page where all the latest updates about each proposed power plant are posted. The address is: http://www.efsec.wa.gov. Perhaps with community support, Wallula can be postponed or stopped all together. The owners of Wallula Generation, L.L.C. will not listen to individuals but they will listen to a community of concerned people.