US utility relocates local community following pollution incidents

The United States’ largest electricity generator has offered to relocate all the residents of a local community that experienced a succession of air pollution incidents throughout last summer from a nearby power station.

American Electric Power (AEP) said the decision to buy the village of Cheshire gives the company room to expand existing facilities at its nearby coal-powered generating station, as well as providing a solution to the concerns of their neighbours. Under the agreement with local residents, AEP will purchase the properties of the 221 residents at a cost of US$20 million, which compares with a reported audited value for Cheshire of just under US$6 million.

The residents entered into litigation with AEP following a succession of days during the summer months last year when a blue acidic haze appeared across the village. Residents complained of irritating conditions such as burning eyes, headaches, sore throats and white-coloured burns. According to a federal report, the pollution was not life threatening but was harmful to asthmatics.

The source of the incidents was traced to the start up of pollution control equipment at AEP’s nearby 2,600-megawatt General James M Gavin plant, which is Ohio’s largest coal-burning power plant. AEP installed a US$175 million pollution control system last year to help the plant comply with a federal mandate that the Midwest cut nitrogen oxide emissions drifting into the Northeast.

In a statement issued by AEP, the company points out that during the start-up of selective catalytic reduction, SCR systems in 2001, plant employees and area residents began to notice that the exhaust plume from the plant’s two 830-foot-high stacks had changed.

The company went on to state that “this seemed to be connected to the recent installation and operation of selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems in conjunction with sulphur dioxide control systems. Subsequent analysis confirmed that the same mechanism used in the SCR systems to reduce nitrogen oxides produced a small increase in the level of sulphur trioxide (SO3). The situation was compounded by weather conditions that periodically forced the stack exhaust plume to the ground producing a ‘blue haze’ at ground level. At no time during the plant’s operation did emissions in the plume exceed any health-based ambient air quality standards or permissible exposure limits established by federal or state regulations.”

“While the plant operates with emission levels well within all health-based air quality standards, we understand the concerns of our neighbours and care about the welfare of the community,” said said Bill Sigmon, AEP senior vice president. “As part of this agreement, we are resolving all claims of impacts that the residents have.”

In January, AEP announced plans to reduce SO3 emissions by installing three separate injection systems at a cost of approximately US$7 million on Unit 2 at the station. The systems will be completed in May. Flue gases from Unit 1 will bypass its SCR system during the coming May to September ozone season. The company says SO3 mitigation systems are being evaluated for all future SCR installations.

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