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Power-Plant Cooling: How Many Fish Per kWh?

EPA flounders on the Clean Water rule, while producers tackle the real enemy—shortage.

Fortnightly Magazine - July 2005

of the intakes, and the type of resource from which the facility would draw its cooling water ( see “EPA’s Phase-III CWIS Proposal” ). However, in contrast to Phases I and II, the EPA chose not to conduct extensive additional studies at facilities of the size and type that might be covered in order to finalize its cost-benefit analysis for Phase III. Instead, it simply extrapolated the results from its studies of Phase I and Phase II facilities in order to estimate potential costs and benefits from applying similar rules to Phase III units.

This leap of faith, however, has drawn considerable criticism from rule opponents in the public comments filed to date. The opponents argue that the EPA has failed to justify its cost and benefit estimates because the experience from large-capacity Phase I and Phase II units does’t give a clear idea of how the smaller-sized intakes at Phase III units would affect the environment.

Consider arguments offered by the scholars of regulatory law at the Mercatus Center, George Mason University, in Fairfax, Va.

They note that the Phase II rule covered 257 plants with intakes greater than 500 MGD, and 112 plants greater than 1,000 MGD. By contrast, the Phase III universe would include only 10 facilities larger than 500 MGD, and only 2 above 1,000 MGD. Thus, it would be natural to assume that fish mortality (and the benefits of protection) would run much higher at Phase II facilities than for Phase III units. And, as one might expect, the EPA’s smaller estimates for Phase II units reflected that general assumption. However, the Mercatus scholars still find fault with EPA’s numbers.

For example, EPA admits that water intake volumes likely would run nearly 10 times higher at Phase III facilities than for Phase II—214 billion gallons per day versus 23 billion. It adds that “larger withdrawals of water may result in commensurately greater levels of entrainment.” Yet, at the same time, EPA claims that “even on a flow-weighted basis, the number of organisms impinged and entrained by Phase III facilities is approximately one-third of the number of organisms impinged and entrained by Phase II facilities.”

Mercatus replies simply: “This claim does not make sense.”

These words reflect the general tenor of comments from two other key industry groups. One is the Cooling Water Intake Structure Coalition, led by the American Petroleum Institute and the American Forest & Paper Association. The other is the Utility Water Act Group, an association of 198 individual electric utilities and four national trade groups: Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the Nuclear Energy Institute, the American Public Power Association (APPA), and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).

For example, the APPA highlights just how much the EPA is relying upon its novel theory that protection of purely recreational fishing can justify the rule:

“There are substantial, unquantified non-use benefits associated with the Rule,” APPA notes. “In fact, EPA states that 96.7 percent of the organisms expected to be protected by the Rule will not be harvested and, thus, have no direct use value.”

In particular,