UVa Seeks to Increase Power Plant Output

UVa has asked the Department of Environmental Quality for permission to burn more fuel at their power plant. Their plant, on JPA near the UVa Medical Center, operates without scrubbers to decrease sulfur dioxide emissions. They are exempt from air quality regulations because of their non-profit status. The University has considered moving to the clean-burning natural gas, but the $4M price tag has left them cold. Jake Mooney and Eric Swensen have the story in today’s Progress.

9 thoughts on “UVa Seeks to Increase Power Plant Output”

  1. Ironically, the Cavalier‘s story on the heating plant today shares the front page with a story about the new basketball arena, budgeted at $120M and counting. Nobody seems to be complaining about that price tag.

    I’d like to see cost projections on the scrubbers. It’s my understanding that they are less expensive than they used to be, and that in some cases they can lower long-term costs by allowing lower-grade coal to be burned.

  2. Now if the University fundraisers were clever, they’d apply the same energies to bringing in money for power plant capital improvements that they have to athletic facilities. Imagine: “The William Cabell Byrd Sulfur Dioxide Scrubbers of the J. Randolph Scott IV Smokestacks at the Hank T. Shifflet Central Power Plant”! Surely there are donors out there who’d be willing to put their name on something of actual utility to the University and surrounding community?

  3. Or better yet, a campaign to name something like, “The James Gilmore No-Car Tax Relief Tuition Increase.” Plus I’d be willing to donate money towards naming some gaseous thing at UVa after a politician…..

    Actually, isn’t there a list of naming opportunities at UVa (academic and health center)? That would be hysterical to endow a special fund.

  4. I find it more than a little troubling that UVA is exempt from air quality regulations for ANY reason. Seems like a large loophole that needs to be closed.



    Daily Progress staff writers

    A request by the University of Virginia to burn more fuel at a power plant near the heart of Charlottesville is drawing the ire of local officials concerned about the effects pollutants in the facility’s smoke could have on nearby neighborhoods and UVa’s hospital.

    City Councilor Kevin Lynch, who represents the city on the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, has asked the commission’s other members, who represent five other Central Virginia localities, to join him in formally opposing the university’s plans for its main heating plant.

    In an e-mail to the commission’s other members, who represent the city and Albemarle, Nelson, Greene, Fluvanna and Louisa counties, Lynch said he was also notifying “a number of neighborhood and environmental groups” of the situation.

    University officials, on the other hand, have told the state’s Department of Environmental Quality they need to burn more coal, oil and natural gas to heat buildings planned as part of their ongoing expansion.

    They called measures to reduce pollution from the plant too expensive, and contend that UVa, as a nonprofit organization, is exempt from certain state air-quality regulations.

    When planning district commission staffers presented the university’s positions at a recent meeting, “our jaws just collectively dropped,” Lynch said Tuesday. “To be honest with you, when I heard that I couldn’t believe it.”

    The plant, on Jefferson Park Avenue adjoining the university Medical Center, operates without “scrubbers” — devices that can be installed in power plant smokestacks to cut emissions of the pollutant sulfur dioxide.

    That, Lynch said, was particularly shocking. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s web site, sulfur dioxide contributes to respiratory illness in children and the elderly, aggravates existing heart and lung diseases and contributes to acid rain and smog — most noticeably in national parks.

    Most sulfur dioxide released into the air comes from power plants and industrial facilities that burn coal, according to the web site. In 2000, Lynch said, the UVa plant produced more of the gas than the two controversial planned natural gas power plants in Fluvanna County would produce each year combined.

    “I can’t speak for the entire commission, but I think we were all quite surprised that something like this was right in the middle of the city,” Lynch said. “I’d have to say I had an expectation … that the plant was using modern technology and would be of the highest standards.”

    UVa Chief Facilities Officer Robert Dillman said, though, that the plant meets all laws and regulations and has a permit to operate that doesn’t require scrubbers. The devices, he said, would be very expensive for the university to install and maintain. Dillman stressed that the university is not seeking to expand the plant, but to operate it at higher capacity, which the current permit does not allow. Increasing the output of all five of the plant’s boilers, he said would meet the university’s heating needs for the next 10 to 20 years.

    Dillman said the university has considered converting the plant exclusively to natural gas, which he acknowledged is much cleaner than coal. The problem, he said, is that doing so would cost UVa an additional $4 million per year just for fuel.

    Moreover, he said, “coal is more reliable than gas. There are thousands of years worth of coal in the ground, but if the oil cartel decided they didn’t want to sell us any gas, we’d be in trouble.” UVa’s permit request is part of a long and complicated relationship with the DEQ.

    After the university violated the plant’s operating permit several times in the mid-1990s, it signed a consent order with the environmental agency requiring it to obtain the modified permit it is now seeking.

    The violations, Dillman said, primarily involved burning more fuel than the permit allowed. During particularly cold winters, he said, “our choice was either let the hospital get cold or violate the permit.”

    Both Dillman and DEQ officials agree that UVa is exempt from portions of the state’s “prevention of significant deterioration” air quality requirements because the university is a non-profit organization.

    Those requirements include mandates that, in some cases, require pollution controls — such as “scrubbers” — and require UVa to demonstrate that new pollution from the plant expansion would not “cause or contribute” to violations of national air quality standards.

    But Sharon Foley, the air permit manager for the DEQ’s regional office in Harrisonburg, said the university is still subject to somewhat less stringent versions of those requirements, known as the “minor new source review regulations,” which do not have a nonprofit exemption.

    Dillman said UVa has previously been subject only to the first set of rules, and questioned whether the set that Foley cited applies to the university’s power plant. “We’re not a minor new source,” he said. “We’re not changing anything. We’re just burning more fuel.”

    The dispute, Dillman said, led UVa in December to withdraw its application for the new permit for the plant. The university has asked for a May 1 deadline to submit a new application.

    Foley said the DEQ likely would have a response to the deadline request by the end of the week.

  6. Is U-Va allowed already to use the lower grade fuel for the same reasons that they don’t need scrubbers?

    Somebody in this situation is working with horses. I, for one, would like to see Mr. Mooney get to the bottom of the whole thing.

  7. Hey, you’d be surprised at what other laws UVa is exempt from — take their UVa Bus Transit service. When I called about it about 10 years ago, I was told that they were exempt from pretty much any regulatory rules because they were University owned.


    I could Not Stop for Death, So UVa Transit Service Stopped for Me…..

  8. I thought that he made a decent point before descending back into that horses confusion from before.

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