At annual ozone-season kickoff, TVA officials pitch clean-air initiatives

Since coming out on the losing end last year of a multistate lawsuit that took seven years to resolve, the Tennessee Valley Authority has pushed a green agenda that promises to “keep the initiatives coming, and keep the clean air coming.” On March 30, TVA representatives attended the Land-of-Sky Regional Council’s annual Ozone Season Kickoff event, where they spelled out what they’re doing to be greener.

About 25 people attended the event, including Land-of-Sky members, elected officials, industry representatives and representatives from the agency’s sponsors —Western North Carolina Regional Air Quality Agency, North Carolina Division of Air Quality, Land-of-Sky Clean Vehicles Coalition and Progress Energy.

Meyers, the TVA’s director of environmental policy and performance, told the group that the company’s “board of directors set out a vision to be one of the nation’s leading providers in low-cost, cleaner energy by 2020.” He continued, “Cleaner air is one of the major vision focus parts of our program … as we reduce SO2 and other particulate matter, visible arrays are looking better. Clean air is a little more tangible to us.”

TVA’s Integrated Resource Plan, Myers said, is the guideline for achieving cleaner air in Western North Carolina and the rest of the company’s territory. This plan includes recommendations to increase investments in nuclear power and energy-efficient operations and renewable energy sources, decrease coal-burning units and use natural gas only as an “intermediate supply source.”

According to Myers, some of the major changes to TVA’s power plants include completing the proposed Watts Bar 2 nuclear plant near Chattanooga, Tenn.; retiring the coal-fired Rogersville, Tenn., John Sevier plant by December 2012 and the Waverly, Tenn., Johnsonville plant by December 2017; partially retiring the Stevenson, Ala., Widow’s Creek plant; and adding three new energy efficient “combined cycle” natural gas facilities — one of which will be operational before June 2012 at the John Sevier Plant.

“John Sevier will be retired, and we’re building a gas-combined cycle right there,” Myers said, adding, “Watts Bar 2 is currently under construction. We’ve got scrubbers and [Selective Catalytic Reductions] on Bull Run, Kingston, Cumberland and Paradise … It’s a greener system with lower air emissions.”

Forecasting the ozone

In addition to Myers’ TVA presentation, Paul Muller, the regional supervisor for the Asheville regional office of the North Carolina Division of Air Quality, presented an ozone-season forecast, and Ashley Featherstone, the engineering supervisor for the Regional Air Quality Agency, discussed local air quality.

According to Muller, the DAQ will start providing ozone season forecasts daily at 3 p.m. from March 30 until the end of September. Each forecast indicates the following day’s status.

“We issue forecasts for both ridgetops and valleys, so if you’re going to be hiking to Mount Mitchell, be sure to check the ridgetop. “Muller said.

Besides the daily ozone forecast, Muller also presented recent ozone and “particulate matter” trends in WNC.

On average, Muller said, air pollution from ozone and particulate matter is below the national EPA “attainment” standards. What this means is both of these pollutants, which are measured separately, are in the “good” Air Quality Index levels, with ozone levels being in the “moderate” level for some areas.

“We prefer to believe that on a really low ‘good’ day, [we have] excellent air,” Muller said, adding “We do have good air in the mountains, but I think everybody was a little shy of calling it ‘excellent.’”

Muller noted that the EPA may tighten the national ozone standard in 2013, which would put WNC in unattainment status. But, according to Muller, the historical trend since 1998 is that the region’s ozone levels have been steadily decreasing, which may signal that future levels will continue to decrease.

According to Featherstone, the Regional Air Quality Agency has various public campaigns. One is the “Turn off your engine; kids breathe here” idling reduction campaign at local schools. The goal is to teach parents and students the impact of idling vehicles and the benefits of turning off your car.

“Studies have shown that our worst air quality days are actually when we’re experiencing these stagnant air conditions, and that it is mostly locally generated pollution,” Featherstone said, adding, “We are responsible for a lot of our own pollution problems as well.”

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