Feds support relicensing for Alcoa

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
A final Environmental Impact Statement ó the crucial stepping stone toward renewal of Alcoa Power Generating Inc.’s Yadkin Hydroelectric Project ó recommends for the project’s relicensing.
The document, issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency late last week, generally supports the Relicensing Settlement Agreement reached between Alcoa and more than 20 stakeholders during a five-year process.
Overall, it calls for more recreation facilities, reduced fluctuations in the reservoirs’ water levels during fish spawning, higher minimum water levels for High Rock Lake, significant conservation gifts, the monitoring of dissolved oxygen levels in the tailwaters and efforts to manage river flow during droughts.
The final Environmental Impact Statement also appears to have good news for the city of Salisbury.
As outlined in a draft Environmental Impact Statement last fall, Alcoa will be responsible for developing a sedimentation and flood protection plan to protect Salisbury’s water supply intake, its pump station off Hannah Ferry Road and the Grants Creek Wastewater Treatment plant.
During the relicensing process, the city has contended that Alcoa’s impoundments ó specifically, High Rock dam ó have endangered the city’s utility infrastructure through flooding and the buildup of sediment.
FERC outlines various alternatives for mitigation that could cost Alcoa Power Generating millions of dollars, if the license is approved.
The final Environmental Impact Statement does not yet represent a relicensing of the Yadkin Project, which includes the four dams and reservoirs known as High Rock, Tuckertown, Badin and Falls.
The current 50-year license expires April 30.
Stanly County leaders recently have argued that a license renewal will threaten the state’s water supply ó which Alcoa officials have said is simply not true.
In response to the local concerns, Gov. Mike Easley has sent a letter to FERC asking that the process be delayed another year for more input and study.
Meanwhile, Alcoa has conducted a media campaign to address some claims being made by the Stanly officials.
The company says the state’s water resources on the Yadkin River are not and never have been in jeopardy. The Relicensing Settlement Agreement reached earlier protects water supply, improves water quality, looks after habitat, conserves land and provides more recreation, the company says.
The existing Yadkin Project generates an average of 814,306 megawatt-hours annually, and those hours are valued at more than $35.3 million. The annual cost of producing the energy is more than $24.8 million.
Under Alcoa’s proposal before FERC, the project would generate about 947,100 megawatt-hours annually, valued at some $40.3 million, but the costs of producing the energy would rise to $37.4 million, leaving $2.8 million annually as a net.
Profits could be affected, however, by some of the mitigation connected with Salisbury’s infrastructure.
The final Environmental Impact Statement released last week actually combines the Yadkin Project and the Yadkin-Pee Dee River Project, which is Progress Energy’s renewal for the Lake Tillery and Blewett Falls hydroelectric operations downstream.
Together, the Alcoa and Progress Energy operations touch seven counties: Davidson, Davie, Rowan, Stanly, Montgomery, Anson and Richmond.
The final statement says, “Overall, the measures proposed by Alcoa Generating and Progress Energy under the terms of the Yadkin and Yadkin-Pee Dee settlements, along with additional staff-recommended and revised measures, would protect and enhance existing water use, water quality, fish and wildlife, land use, aesthetics, recreational and cultural resources.”
FERC’s report says construction of High Rock Dam “altered the sediment transport regime in the Yadkin River,” adding that “sediment accumulates in the upper reaches of High Rock Reservoir and has resulted in an extensive sediment delta that causes flood waters to reach higher elevations along the shorelines.”
As for protecting the city of Salisbury’s infrastructure in and along High Rock Lake, FERC calls on Alcoa to have specific measures for dredging so that Salisbury’s water intake remains clear of sediment.
It suggests a protective dike for the city’s raw water pump station, improved road access to the pump station or “other feasible options for achieving a mutually agreeable and cost-effective resolution to flood protection.”
Options might include relocation of the pump station or providing an alternative energy water supply, FERC said.
FERC wants Alcoa to give capital and maintenance costs for all alternatives and “a recommendation as to which alternative to implement.”
“This plan is to be developed in consultation with the city of Salisbury … and North Carolina Division of Water Quality and filed with the commission within six months of license issuance,” the report says.
The final Environmental Impact Statement puts the preliminary cost of completing and implementing a plan that would protect the water intake and pump station at about $11.4 million in capital costs and $1.25 million annually for maintenance dredging.
As for the Grants Creek wastewater treatment plant, the costs to Alcoa would be more than $6.8 million.
“Given Alcoa’s responsibility to mitigate for the effects of sediment disposition in the High Rock reservoir … it would be beneficial for Alcoa Generating and Salisbury-Rowan Utilities to seek a mutually-agreeable and cost effective resolution to this issue,” the FERC report says.
Here are some other highlights of the final Environmental Impact Statement for the Yadkin Project, which would ask Alcoa to:
– Keep High Rock Lake’s water level within 4 feet of full pond from April 1 to Oct. 31 and within 10 feet of full pond from Dec. 1 to March 1, except as needed to maintain flows as provided under low-flow, hydro-project maintenance and emergency protocols.
– Keep water levels at Tuckertown, Badin and Falls reservoirs 3, 5 and 4 feet, respectively, of their full ponds, except during the same protocols.
– Remove signage and close the pump station access area.
– Construct new recreational facilities on High Rock Lake in Rowan County and establish up to 10 dispersed campsites.
– Improve the Yadkin Project’s four canoe portage trails.
– Replace the N.C. 49 boat access area when necessary.
– Develop and implement a recreation plan.
– Install equipment and measures to improve dissolved oxygen conditions in the project’s tailwaters.
Copies of the final Environmental Impact Statement, which is more than 300 pages, can be viewed online at www.ferc.gov. Use the “eLibrary” link. The Yadkin Project is Project No. 2197.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

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