Thursday, August 18, 2016

Environmentalists Question TVA's Plan to Drill Wells in Aquifer

Posted By on Thu, Aug 18, 2016 at 8:15 PM

click to enlarge The TVA is replacing the Allen Fossil Plant with a new gas plant. - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • The TVA is replacing the Allen Fossil Plant with a new gas plant.
The Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA) proposal to pull 3.5 million gallons of water per day from the Memphis Sand aquifer to cool its new under-construction gas plant is under fire by local environmentalists, many of whom showed up to a Sierra Club-sponsored public forum on the matter Thursday night.

About 100 people showed up to the meeting at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library to express concern over the plan to use Memphis' clean drinking water to cool the TVA's gas plant. 

"In my opinion, this is not a good use of our drinking water," said panelist Brian Waldron, the director of the University of Memphis' Center for Applied Earth Science and Engineering Research.

In 2014, when the TVA approved plans for the Allen Combined Cycle gas plant that will replace the Allen Fossil coal plant in 2018, they said they'd be using wastewater from the nearby Maxson Wastewater Treatment Plant for its cooling water system. But those plans have turned out to be too expensive, according to a report from TVA, since using wastewater would first require treatment due to pollutants in that water.

Now, they're looking at a few alternatives — either drilling five wells into the aquifer and pulling water directly from the ground, purchasing potable water from Memphis Light, Gas, & Water (MLGW), or some combination of the two. If potable water is purchased from MLGW, that water would come from both the Memphis Sand and the Fort Pillow aquifers, but the TVA environmental assessment report says MLGW cannot sell the TVA enough water to meet peak demand.

The TVA published a supplemental report on the proposals in April, but the entity did not seek public comment. That's not required by law, but TVA did seek comments for its original report detailing the options for switching from a coal plant to a gas plant.

"Had they opened it for comment, we would have offered alternatives," said panelist Scott Banbury, conservation program coordinator for the Sierra Club.

Some of those alternatives were discussed by panelists at the meeting. MLGW president Jerry Collins sat on the panel and told the crowd that if TVA had to take water from the aquifer, he'd prefer the entity buy potable water from MLGW rather than pump directly. Either way, it comes out of the aquifer, but Collins said a purchase from MLGW would allow for more oversight.

"That would keep your rates low, and we could monitor how much they're using. Also, we take out the iron and add phosphate, which makes it much less corrosive," Collins said. 

Collins did say that the aquifer is in better shape than it was 16 years ago. In 2000, the average amount of water pumped from the aquifer daily was 159 million gallons. Last year, 126 million gallons per day were pumped. Collins credited that drop to regional water users becoming more environmentally conscious and installing low-flush toilets and more energy efficient washing machines and dishwashers.

Waldron said he'd prefer the TVA take its cooling water from the Mississippi River Valley alluvial aquifer rather than the Memphis Sand. He also warned of a known breach in the Memphis Sand that he believed could cause damage to the water supply if TVA went through with its plans to pump water directly from the aquifer.

Angela Garrone, an attorney for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, pointed out that if TVA would dedicate more resources to renewable energy, it wouldn't need so much water.

"Solar and wind don't need water and don't have much of an impact on our environment," Garrone said.

She also said the TVA should be doing a better job to engage the public on the matter.

"The TVA is a federal entity, not a company. I would think it would be in their best interest to engage the public," she said. 

The TVA is still in a decision-making mode about what to do, Collins said. But several environmentalists from the Sierra Club are planning to attend the TVA's board meeting on August 25th in Knoxville to express their concerns. Memphis City Councilman Martavius Jones said he may introduce a resolution in support of the TVA considering other alternatives at the next council meeting.

The TVA is under an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency and several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, to reduce emissions at its coal-fired plants by December 2018. In 2014, the TVA's board voted to close the Allen Fossil plant, which provides energy to the region, and replace it with a more environmentally friendly natural gas plant. The new Allen Combined Cycle plant is currently under construction in Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park, near the site of the Allen Fossil Plant.

The TVA must have the Allen Fossil Plant closed by December 2018, so they're looking to get the new plant online by June of that year. 

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