Covering their ash

“Things have changed considerably since we last spoke,” says Department of Environmental Quality senior engineer Mike Kiss.
At last report, the DEQ was still considering UVA’s application to burn more fuel at its main heating plant on Jefferson Park Avenue. And, in a revelation that had some residents recoiling in horror, a Charlottesville city councilor pointed out that UVA admitted that it is currently spewing more than a ton of sulfur dioxide a day.
    Now at least one source of contention has been eliminated. UVA had been claiming that its non-profit status exempted it from some federal air standards. DEQ didn’t argue with that, but said UVA still has to meet state standards, specifically, the best available control technology, or BACT, from which federal regulations exempt it.
    The university decided to comply with the BACT requirement. “We’re selecting an outside engineering firm over the next several weeks to help with that analysis,” says UVA spokeswoman Louise Dudley.
The firm will look at environmental and economic impacts, as well as cleaner fuels, best combustion practices, and controls on smokestacks, which Dudley calls “tailpipe controls.”
    As for the reported DEQ investigation, Dudley says DEQ is not pursing an investigation, and Kiss confirms that, saying, “At this point, we’re focused on the permit application.”
    In another development, on March 26, a federal appeals court upheld strict federal air-quality standards that industry groups had been fighting. Will that ruling affect the 100 pounds of particulates that UVA emits each day?
Kiss says no. Nor will the ruling have any immediate effect on UVA’s permit, Kiss says.
    While environmentalists got pretty riled up when City Councilor Kevin Lynch reported that UVA wanted to increase its heating plant emissions, the coal industry’s reaction was a bit different.
    “One of the most telling things about that Progress article was that [Lynch] was not even aware coal was being burned in the city,” says Andy Cox, vice president of Amvest, an international energy company that sells coal. “That means UVA is doing a heck of a good job. The fact that they want to burn more won’t matter one iota to John Doe.”
While Amvest has a special connection with UVA— founder Carl W. Smith is the former gridiron great who gave $25 million to refurbish Scott Stadium— Amvest does not sell coal to clients as small as UVA, according to Cox. (Also, Amvest does not sell stoker coal— the kind UVA burns— which Cox describes as one of the cleanest and most efficient types of coal because it produces less ash.) Cox has been in the university facility and says, “You can eat off the floor in that plant.”
The fact that UVA does not use scrubbers in its smokestacks was another revelation that startled the community. However, UVA’s permit does not require scrubbers, and, among several problems they present at the JPA site Cox notes, “I doubt there’s physical room to put them in.” Also, scrubbers produce a lime sludge that is costly to dispose of, he says.
Cox has a daughter who attends UVA and lives near the power plant. He decries environmental scare tactics that ask such questions as, “Do you want your children to have to breathe bad air?” Cox offers this testimonial: “I’m not concerned a bit about that little, itty-bitty power plant if it’s properly maintained and run.”