Ramble On

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Another Valley Power Plant Controversy

“Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature's darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature's sources never fail.”   - John Muir

Joy Lorien, another of my colleagues from the Page County Fibrowatt days, recently reminded me of this John Muir quote.  She brought it up in the context of another powerplant that is going up in the Valley, this time a gas-fired plant that will be established by Dominion Virginia.  She linked an article in the Northern Virginia Daily – see below – that described the potential impact of emissions from the plant on Shenandoah National Park. 

Basically, Park analysts had found that because acid rain and other side effects of conventional power would be reduced when the plant comes on-line – reduced because it will replace older plants – there would still be an impact on visibility, since this plant would emit an exhaust plume that would frequently blow towards the Park.  

Here are a few excerpts from the article:
“Shenandoah National Park's streams will be cleaner but its views sometimes diminished by operations at the planned Dominion Virginia Power plant, according to several studies projecting the plant's effects on the park.

“Park officials describe the gas-fired power plant as a net environmental asset, thanks to agreements between federal officials and representatives of Dominion Power. Those agreements include the closing of an aging coal-fired power plant in West Virginia and reduction or elimination of emissions at other company facilities in the region.

The analysis here highlights the trade-offs of the plant’s impacts, but it won’t stop the plant.  The power produced there will be sold to Northern Virginia (sadly, I must confess, I will probably be one of those consumers).  All in all, they expect limited visibility totaling about two weeks a year, concentrated in the Northern District of the Park.  

Joy, who has worked at the Park for nearly 30 years, went on to talk about its importance.  She said, “…[I] have just reveled in the beauty of the trails, the wildlife, the waterfalls, the panoramic scenes, sunsets, sunrises, rainbows, and lightning storms - I can go on and on for to me it is truly a heaven on earth…I have noticed an improvement over the last couple of years compared to many years of no view at all in the summer because of the haze and why we want to go backward with another power plant so close to the Park is just not a good idea in my opinion.

Her words resonated with me, just as the quotation from John Muir does.  As frequent readers know, I spend a lot of time up in the Park, going there as often as I can get away, mainly because there are simply too few outlets for exploring the natural world available to those of us living in the metropolitan East Coast areas.  Although the decision to establish the Park was controversial, we have it now, and we should take the steps necessary to protect and preserve it. 

As far as a call to action goes, well, the Dominion plant seems to be a done deal.  And we can rationalize that fact with the thought that a trade-off was made to reduce acid rain and other harmful impacts in the watershed, even though we’ll still have air pollution and reduced visibility.  Still each step forward needs to be carefully evaluated.  

Joy left me with these words, reminding me of the forethought that went into Article XI of Virginia’s Constitution:
“…it shall be the Commonwealths policy to protect its atmosphere, lands and waters, from pollution, impairment or destruction for the benefit, enjoyment and general welfare of the Commonwealth" 

Here’s a link to the recent article about the Dominion Plant: http://www.nvdaily.com/news/2012/02/warren-county-power-plant-clarity-on-park-haze-issue.php

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