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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

the APPA notes that some 60 of its members appear subject to a potential Phase III rule, out of an estimated universe of 121 utilities threatened by Phase III. And for those 60 members, the APPA agrees with its colleagues at EEI and NRECA:

“The costs of complying with the Rule’s performance standards far outweigh the potential benefits.”

For the small-sized power plants and other facilities that the EPA proposes to regulate through the Phase III rule, the industry groups would rather see the agency simply decline to set a national standard. They would prefer the status quo , whereby such small facilities may obtain permits from the appropriate state agencies on a case-by-case basis.

In fact, in the preamble (the regulatory explanation) of its proposed Phase III rule, the EPA anticipates just such a result:

“EPA is also considering an alternative under which EPA would not promulgate, at this time, categorical requirements under section 316(b) for cooling water intake structures unregulated by Phase I and Phase II. Rather, EPA would continue to rely on the best professional judgment of the permitting authority to determine the best technology available to minimize adverse environmental impact, in order to allow these requirements to be better tailored to local conditions.”

For its part, the Mercatus Center strongly urges EPA to settle on the so-called “no-rule” option and maintain the status quo . “The rule does not explain,” the scholars say, “why the practice for the past 25 years is flawed.

“The fact that EPA has been unable to justify that this regulation is cost-effective … reinforces the superiority of a case-by-case approach.”

Supply Shortage: Water as a Commodity

Industry experts, including Kent Zammit, manager, Cooling Water Technologies at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), point to the highly visible Riverkeeper case in the Northeast as the latest word on water conservation and protection of aquatic and marine life. ( See, Riverkeeper, Inc., v. EPA, 358 F.3d 174, 2d Cir., 2004. )

In that case, environmental groups had challenged the EPA’s Phase I rule and had prevailed on the claim that the Clean Water Act does not allow “restoration” measures to mitigate damage after the fact to comply with Section 316(b), but instead requires affirmative action beforehand to avoid damage. The electric generating and manufacturing industries also had challenged EPA’s Phase I rule, but their claims were denied.

In wake of Riverkeeper and other cases, New York’s Department of Environmental Quality now is perceived as taking the position that it doesn’t even want to discuss what is an “adverse” im-pact; instead, it wants to look at every plant and what it can do to reduce the impact it might have. Some industry reps see New York’s conservation agencies unyielding to the point where actions affecting “one fish, one egg, one larva”
is considered an adverse environmental impact. That has created more interest—not only to make water in-takes safer,
but to switch perhaps to dry cooling technologies, which use less water.

Already power plant designers as far West as New Mexico, Nevada, and California are redesigning cooling strategies in