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Investigating Safety Impacts of Energy Technologies on Airports and Aviation (2011)

Chapter: Chapter Five - Traditional Power Plants and Potential Impacts

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Five - Traditional Power Plants and Potential Impacts." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2011. Investigating Safety Impacts of Energy Technologies on Airports and Aviation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/14590.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Five - Traditional Power Plants and Potential Impacts." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2011. Investigating Safety Impacts of Energy Technologies on Airports and Aviation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/14590.
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Page 28
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Five - Traditional Power Plants and Potential Impacts." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2011. Investigating Safety Impacts of Energy Technologies on Airports and Aviation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/14590.
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Page 29

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27 This section describes the existing body of information on the potential impacts of traditional power plants on airports and aviation. Potential impacts include physical penetration of airspace, communications systems interference, and visual impacts of vapor plumes. However, the greatest concern has been expressed about the potential impact of thermal plumes from air-cooled condensers and smokestacks. PHYSICAL PENETRATION OF AIRSPACE Power plants may file a Form 7460 with the FAA for structures that result in a physical penetration of airspace. Facilities that can rise high enough to penetrate airspace include the emis- sions stack and the cooling system (see Figure 19). Because power plants are often high-profile projects that are subject to several layers of federal, state, and local regulatory review, the airspace review is typically undertaken early in the review process and a determination of hazard from the FAA is likely to be fatal for any proposed site. However, new peaker plants are constructed with shorter exhaust stacks that often do not result in physical penetration. Critics have expressed concern that impacts into airspace could be produced by nonstructural forces such as smokestack exhaust. COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEMS INTERFERENCE Power plants can also present a physical obstruction to radar and other communication signals. As discussed previously, because these projects are subject to a rigorous and open public process it is expected that issues such as proximity to radar facilities would be raised during public review and studies of potential impacts conducted. Many of the new facil- ities are being constructed in congested urban areas where physical obstructions to radar communications may already exist. Potential impacts from power plants on communica- tions systems have not risen to a level of concern as other impacts described herein. THERMAL PLUME TURBULENCE Exhaust plumes from cooling systems have the potential to create in-flight hazards that affect the control and maneuver- ability of aircraft. Under certain conditions, the plumes gener- ated by the facilities can create turbulent conditions for aircraft that fly over or through the plumes. There are numerous exam- ples, especially in California, of aircraft being affected by power plant plumes during takeoff and/or landing at airports (C. Ford, personal communication, 2010). This can be partic- ularly troublesome for pilots unfamiliar with the airports and a potential hazard from flying through an exhaust plume. Thermal plume turbulence for traditional power plants is generally the same as that described in the Thermal Plume Tur- bulence section in chapter three for concentrated solar power projects. The dry-cooling system, typically an air-cooled con- denser, is the same structure regardless of how the power plant generates steam that requires cooling. However, as a result of the increase in new fossil fuel-fired power plants constructed over the last 15 years and concern raised about their impacts on aviation the FAA has provided guidance on the matter. In January 2006, the FAA prepared a risk analysis on exhaust plumes titled Safety Risk Analysis of Aircraft Over- flight of Industrial Exhaust Plumes (FAA 2006). This was an advisory study that contained recommendations for changes to FAA Order 7400.2E, Procedures for Handling Airspace Matters, regarding the effects of industrial plumes that are not included in the Part 77 evaluations. The safety risk analysis study findings indicated that the risk of an accident from a small plane flying through a plume was low (i.e., below accept- able levels). The study recommended that pilots stay more than 1,000 ft above the plume. The analysis was based on sta- tistical averages and not actual flight tests. In 2010, the FAA updated the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) to include visible and invisible thermal plumes and their affect on aircraft and pilots. AIM is the FAA’s guide to flight information and air traffic control procedures. It is basically a pilots guide to flying an airplane and incorporates information such as medical considerations, factors affecting flight, emergency procedures, and air traffic control. The new information on thermal plumes is contained in Chapter 7-5-15, “Avoid Flight in the Vicinity of Thermal Plumes” (FAA 2010b). The section has been updated to warn pilots to avoid flight in the vicinity of thermal plumes including smoke stacks and cooling towers. In addition to the AIM update, the FAA has recently under- taken a study to evaluate the impact of vertical plumes and CHAPTER FIVE TRADITIONAL POWER PLANTS AND POTENTIAL IMPACTS

exhaust effluent on aviation safety by the Airport Obstruction Standards Committee. The purpose of the study is to: 1. Determine the impact of plume-induced turbulence under a variety of atmospheric conditions; 2. Evaluate potential plume impacts and risk resulting from pollutant concentrations within the plume using EPA and Occupational Safety and Health Administra- tion allowed regulations and potential exposure to the aircraft and crew members through repeated exposure of flying through plumes; and 3. Evaluate potential visible affects from plumes on avia- tion (i.e., ash and soot). The state of California has a significant number of existing electric energy plants located near airports. There are several groups opposing these facilities based on the potential safety hazards the new plumes could pose on nearby air traffic at the airports. In California, the procedures for the siting of a new power plant are complex and involve a variety of review organizations that evaluate among other criteria environ- mental impacts. Review agencies include the CEC, EPA, and FAA, along with local permit agencies. One of the problems in addressing the impact of exhaust plumes and aviation is the lack of current information and studies on the effect plumes have on aircraft. The FAA is currently conducting an analysis of the impact of plume-induced turbulence and the potential risk to aircraft and pilots. The only conclusive information available from the FAA and U.S.DOT is after-the-fact inci- dents of aircraft crashes in the vicinity of exhaust plumes near airports (CEC 2010b). The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has been active in providing comment on proposed energy proj- ects and their potential impacts on pilots (J. Collins, AOPA, personal communication, 2011). For example, AOPA has pro- vided comments on the potential impacts of thermal plumes from the proposed 200 MW Mariposa Natural Gas-Fired 28 Power Plant proposed near Byron Municipal Airport (C83) (AOPA 2010). VAPOR PLUME VISUAL IMPACT In addition to turbulence created by industrial plumes, visual hazards created by the plumes, especially from cooling tow- ers, also present a potential problem to pilots (see Figure 20). Plumes from cooling towers have relatively low vertical velocities and typically do not cause turbulence within the flight levels. The main hazard from a cooling tower vapor plume therefore is visual impairment to a pilot primarily resulting from the plume length and height along with poten- tial fogging and icing conditions. Modeling is used to evaluate impacts from cooling towers. The model has the capability of predicting frequency (includ- ing lengths and heights) of visible cooling tower moisture plumes along with the potential hours of fogging and icing conditions. MITIGATION OPTIONS The following mitigation options may be considered to min- imize impacts from thermal plumes: • Curtail in energy-generation operations during periods when it may be necessary for aircraft to pass over air- cooled condensers because of to weather conditions or other specific circumstances. • Restrict in-flight procedures during certain periods of the day when thermal plumes may occur. • Expand pilot training and awareness programs. TRADITIONAL POWER PLANT IMPACT EXAMPLES The following are examples of traditional power plants, both baseload and peakers, identified as having a potential impact on aviation. FIGURE 19 Bay Front Power Station, Wisconsin (courtesy: Seth Tisue, Wikipedia Commons). FIGURE 20 Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station, Pennsylvania (courtesy: Nuclear Regulatory Commission).

29 Towantic Energy, Connecticut The Towantic Energy Power Plant is a proposed 512 MW combined-cycle natural gas-fired power plant proposed for Middlebury, Connecticut. Two 150-ft stacks are proposed for the project located approximately 280 ft east of the Oxford Air- port runway. The location of the stacks lies directly under the “left downwind leg” approach to the airport and the height and location of the stacks could present a potential hazard to aviation. In addition, potential fogging conditions could occur with the increase in water vapor from the plant, along with potential inversion conditions that could obscure the runways. An analysis was completed to evaluate the vapor plumes emit- ted by the project near the airport (Egan Environmental 2010). Five aeronautical studies were conducted by the FAA, with the latest determination by the FAA of No Hazard from the stacks (FAA 2010c). The Connecticut Siting Council has approved the project; however, construction of the plant has not occurred owing to the current economic situation and the need to secure a long-term power purchase agreement. In February 2010, as a result of continuing concerns of the potential impact of the pro- posed plant on Oxford Airport, the FAA announced the Airport Obstruction Standards Committee had begun a plume exhaust initiative to evaluate the potential impacts from plume-induced turbulence along with the potential impact to both aircraft and aircrew from repeated exposure resulting from flying through plume effluent (R. Pietrorazio, FAA Air Traffic Control Tower Manager, personal communication, 2010). The findings of the initiative are expected to be released by the end of 2011. Blythe I and II, California The CEC authorized the construction of the Blythe I power plant on January 31, 2001. The Blythe I energy facility is a 520 MW baseload natural gas power plant located approxi- mately 1 mile east of the Blythe Airport (BLH). The plant has two large stacks and cooling towers. The project is currently operating and there have been numerous complaints filed to the CEC by pilots because of the visible and thermal plumes emanating from the plant and the hazards presented to pilots (Ford 2010). Blythe Energy Project Phase II is a proposed 520 MW combined cycle power plant located to the west of the exist- ing Blythe I project. The project is similar in size to Blythe I, with a bank of cooling towers and two 130-ft stacks. The CEC has approved the Blythe II project; however, the FAA has not granted a No Hazard determination and has rejected proposed mitigation from the developers. Russell Energy Center, California Calpine Corporation has proposed a 600 MW combined cycle natural gas electric plant in Hayward, California, known as the Russell City Energy Center. The project would be located approximately 1.5 miles from Hayward Executive Airport (HWD) and consist of two 145-ft exhaust stacks. The project received a No Hazard determination from the FAA. The California Pilots Association is appealing to the Bay Area Air Quality District and the EPA to deny the air quality permit for the facility because of the potential hazards the electric plant could pose to aviation activity in the area including, but not limited to, visual and thermal plume hazards the plant could present to pilots flying in the area (Wilson 2010). The project is still being reviewed by EPA/Bay Area Air Quality District, the CEC, and the California Public Utilities Commission. The FAA completed an aeronautical study for the Russell Energy Center and issued a determination of No Hazard, dated March 26, 2007. The FAA also reviewed comments from the CEC and issued a determination on those comments on July 18, 2007, regarding the potential hazardous impact of the plumes from the facility (Rodriguez 2007). The FAA findings did not change the original determination of No Hazard for either Hayward Airport (HWD) or nearby Oakland Interna- tional Airport (OAK). Eastshore Energy, California Eastshore Energy proposed a 116 MW natural gas-fired peaking facility in the city of Hayward, California. The proj- ect would consist of fourteen 70-ft-tall exhaust stacks located approximately 1 mile from the airport. The CEC denied the application to build based on deficiencies in five areas (CEC 2008). Areas specifically pertaining to aviation were: • The facility would cause a significant cumulative public safety impact on the operations of the nearby Hayward Executive Airport by further reducing already constrained air space and increasing pilot cockpit workload. • The thermal plumes from the facility would present a significant public safety risk to low-flying aircraft dur- ing landing and takeoff maneuvers because of the close proximity of the Hayward Airport. • The facility would be inconsistent with the city of Hayward’s Airport Approach Zoning Regulations and incompatible with the Alameda County Airport Land Use Policy Plan.

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TRB’s Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) Synthesis 28: Investigating Safety Impacts of Energy Technologies on Airports and Aviation explores physical, visual, and communications systems interference impacts from energy technologies on airports and aviation safety.

The energy technologies that are the focus of this report include the following:

• solar photovoltaic panels and farms,

• concentrating solar power plants,

• wind turbine generators and farms, and

• traditional power plants.

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