April 5-11, 2002
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U.Va., DEQ share same goal — an efficient, effective heating plant

central heating plant coal stack and four silos
Photo by Rebecca Arrington
U.Va.’s central heating plant coal stack and four silos (background) border University and Jefferson Park avenues.

By Lee Graves

Officials from U.Va. and the Department of Environmental Quality met in Harrisonburg last week to clear the air over the University’s request to burn more coal in its main heating plant.

From all accounts, the process appears to be on a new footing.

“I think the main thing is the University desires to move forward with this, that it always planned to comply with the air pollution regulations and is going to go a step further and do additional work that may not be required by the … regulations,” said Cheryl Gomez, U.Va.’s director of utilities.

Leonard Sandridge, executive vice president and chief operating officer, said, “We take our relationship with DEQ seriously, and we intend to comply with all state regulations. We simply will not do less.”

DEQ officials also see progress.

“We’re pretty pleased with the meeting we had with the University. It appears we’re on the same page in wanting to do the right thing,” said Mike Kiss, senior environmental engineer with the Harrisonburg office. “Obviously the University has heating needs, and we want to address them.”

The University has been seeking to modify its permit to burn more fuel because the plant uses nearly all that is allowed under the current permit.

“The heating plant met fuel usage limits for 2001 by improved plant efficiency and a milder than normal winter,” said Ray Kneuper, heating plants manager.
DEQ and University officials agree that while the University is exempt from some state regulations, it will conduct studies and install controls as if it were not exempt.

Bert Seymour
Photo by Rebecca Arrington
Bert Seymour, a shift operations supervisor at U.Va.’s central heating plant, demonstrates the controls on one
of the facility’s five boilers, which he and other staff members maintain and operate around the clock.

“I believe there has been an honest difference in interpretation of the regulations,” Sandridge said.

The permit application also generated some recent heat in the community. Charlottesville City Councilman Kevin Lynch circulated an e-mail raising concerns “about the potential adverse effects of operating a large coal-burning facility in an urban area. … Several of the emission components have been linked to significant health risks,” he wrote.

Lynch’s concern came as the University was in protracted discussions with DEQ. The permit process, initiated in 1996, had gone through various twists and turns, including a reapplication last fall and a request last month for an extension until May to revise the request.

DEQ denied the extension.

“The granting of additional extensions to the project that commenced in 1996 may be viewed as DEQ’s tacit approval of further delays,” said R. Bradley Chewning, valley regional director, in a March 19 letter.

Cheryl Gomez
Photo by Elizabeth Wooding
Cheryl Gomez, U.Va.’s director of utilities.

Within days of receiving the notice, four University officials were in Harrisonburg to assure DEQ of its commitment to working together.

“I believe DEQ and the University want the same thing – an efficient and effective plant that is compliant with all state and federal regulations,” Sandridge said.

The University originally had sought permission to burn an additional 5,800 tons of coal a year. Kiss said that amount might be modified as U.Va. gathers information.

The University has three major points to address: analyzing the best available technology to control emissions given the plant’s setup; providing a model of how emissions will affect the community; and providing for public participation.
Gomez said a consultant will be hired to help with the first two.

“It’s conceivable that there are current control technologies available that could reduce our emissions below the point we have now. So we’ll be taking a look at all of those options.”

Once more details are in place, officials will seek comments from the community.
“We need to do some studies to see where we’re heading,” Gomez said.

While there’s no timetable set for the analysis and the modeling, University and DEQ officials are pleased at the recent progress.

“We’re going to do the studies that we need to do, evaluate the environmental impact and put the controls that we need to on the plant,” Gomez said.


How does the main heating plant work?

The plant, designed and built in the 1950s, has five boilers to generate steam. High-grade coal, the main fuel source, is delivered in railway cars and moved through pneumatic pipes to four storage silos. When ready for burning, the coal is again moved via pipes and conveyors to the boilers. Emissions are released through a single 160-foot smokestack.

What other fuels are burned at the plant?

In addition to coal, the plant burns No. 6 fuel oil and natural gas. In 2001, it burned 25,390 tons of coal, 53,267 gallons of oil and 167.3 million standard cubic feet of gas. The total cost for fuel last fiscal year was $2.8 million.

Why use coal, and why not have several heating plants?

Coal is less expensive than natural gas. To produce the same amount of heat, natural gas costs more than three times as much as coal. Using mostly coal saves the University about $4 million annually, said Ray Kneuper, heating plants manager.

A central plant also is the most efficient way to deliver steam around Grounds, said Gomez.

Why did the University seek a new permit?

Currently, the plant operates under limits set when the current permit was negotiated with DEQ more than 10 years ago, Kneuper said. More than 95 percent of the allowed amounts are burned, and several times in recent years the plant has exceeded its annual limits.

Also, an agreement with DEQ requires the University to obtain a new permit.
What pollutants does the plant produce?

Six pollutants are discharged, three of which are considered major regulated pollutants – nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and particles smaller than 10 micrometers. In general, these pollutants can contribute to smog, acid rain and respiratory problems.

How much is being produced?

In 2001, the boiler operation produced 430 tons of sulfur dioxide, 219 tons of nitrogen dioxide and 15 tons of particles with diameters of 10 micrometers or less, according to Vaughn C. Kowahl, U.Va.’s environmental program specialist.
Are those amounts within regulations?

Kowahl said emissions limits are determined by the amount of sulfur and ash in the coal it burns. The current permit says the sulfur content can’t exceed 1.12 percent by weight, and ash content can’t exceed 6.8 percent. Over the last four years, U.Va.’s coal has averaged 0.88 percent sulfur and 4.5 percent ash by weight, he said.

What emission control measures are in place?

Four of the boilers have devices to reduce particles. Two have “baghouses” — metal houses with hundreds of long bags. Emissions from the boilers go through these bags to filter out smoke and particles, much like the bag in a vacuum cleaner filters air as it passes through. The resulting ash is stored in a silo until trucked from the facility.

Two other boilers have “cyclones,” which are internal devices that use a whirling action to separate out the larger particles.

Also, a computerized emissions system continuously monitors the opacity of emissions and the level of nitrogen oxides coming out of the smokestack.

What would it cost to significantly upgrade the plant to reduce emissions?

That will be determined by the analysis of best available control technology. Any estimates would be premature. Beyond the costs of equipment and operation, however, the University will have to address the limited space at the plant.

 


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