Today’s batch of burning questions, my smart-aleck answers and the real deal:
Question: I’m curious as to why the upgrades to the North Fork Dam did not include adding hydro power? I’ve been reading about how it is supposedly easy and inexpensive to add hydropower to existing dams. Ideally, adding hydropower would take place during a renovation. Here are some articles about adding generation to existing dams:
My answer: I don’t know what the city did, but apparently I now have a subscription to Hydro Review magazine, and my life is forever changed.
Real answer: Honestly, this is a topic I’d never considered, but the reader raises a really fascinating point. The articles above get a little technical, but conversions to hydro-electric dams have been happening all over the country for years now, so it’s not exactly a whacky idea.
North Fork Reservoir, which Asheville operates in northeastern Buncombe County near Black Mountain, is the city’s primary drinking water source. I wrote about the project upgrade in September 2020, noting the city has a public information presentation about the latest project, which you can find here: https://publicinput.com/9826.
As Asheville Water Resources Water Production/Water Quality Manager Leslie Carreiro said then, the project was designed to “deliver our community a safer dam with more capacity to hold water from the reservoir and one that is better enforced against potential seismic activity.”
The work included raising the dam by 4 feet, rehabilitating the principal spillway and adding an auxiliary spillway, installing new electrical instrumentation, making modifications to the raw water piping and implementing embankment stability berms.
The North Fork Reservoir and Water Treatment Plant provides 70% of Asheville’s water, so this is clearly some vital infrastructure.
So, why didn’t the city add hydro-electric capabilities at the dam while doing the other work? Carreiro addressed that via email this month.
“The primary use of the North Fork Reservoir and Dam is to produce drinking water for our customers,” Carreiro said. “As other opportunities present themselves, they are evaluated.”
“Considerations to any potential operations changes should include whether there would be significant improvements to the water treatment process or environment,” Carreiro said. “The goal would be to incur little or no impact to the current primary focus — water production.”
They also had to consider the total expense versus payback, as well as “functionality and maintenance of additional processes, and consideration of the requirement to provide a minimum flow of the raw water directly from the lake into the stream for the regeneration of aquatic life,” Carreiro said.
“Evaluations concluded in 2008 by Brown and Caldwell and in the 2010s by Schnabel Engineering South did not prove a good return on investment,” Carreiro continued. “Other challenges included: the complicated, costly and lengthy Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permitting (process); and establishing a contact/agreement with the power company.”
Information submitted to the city last year put the dam upgrade project cost at $36.4 million, with a notation that it “will be more.”
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The reader who submitted this question had some back and forth with the city, and sent me a follow-up email, saying he wasn’t surprised that Brown and Caldwell and Schnabel Engineering South weren’t interested in adding hydro-electric to the dam, as “neither company lists hydro-electric as a service they provide and none of their existing projects indicate that they’ve ever built a hydro-electric dam. Also, their analysis is now more than a decade old.”
e’s still hopeful the city or county might reconsider adding hydro-power, or at least “consider adding small hydropower projects to existing low-head dams in the area. And as I mentioned in my other email, the economics of these conversions may dramatically change with federal assistance.”
One article he mentioned, from Hydro Review in 2008, noted, “Development of 50 new hydro plants at existing dams in 15 states is under way.”
Another article, from the October 2014 edition of Hydro Review, cited a hydro-electric project at an existing dam in western Pennsylvania that will produce enough electricity to power 1,800 homes with 100% clean electricity for 50 years.
The facility also “will avoid 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide, 20 tons of nitrogen oxide (N0x), and 460 grams of mercury emissions on an annual basis, equivalent to taking 4,000 cars off the road or planting 1,000,000 fully grown trees with respect to the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.”
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Also, the article states retrofitting nonpowered dams “creates well-paying, highly skilled crafts jobs, thereby economically empowering local communities. The project created more than 100 jobs utilizing local labor in Armstrong County.”
The reader says he’ll reach out to an engineering firm in Charlotte that does this kind of work, and keep pushing to city on the issue.
Question: My Asheville Citizen Times often comes double wrapped in orange plastic to keep it from being exposed to the elements. Is that plastic compatible with the Ingles plastic bags, and can they be placed in the receptacles in their stores?
My answer: I just get the clear plastic bags. I feel cheated.
Real answer: Ron Freeman, chief financial officer at Ingles Markets, called this question an “easy one.”
“‘Yes’ to all of them,” he said, referring to the questions.
Citizen Times Distribution Director Lisa Angel concurred.
“Newspaper bags are recyclable and can be recycled in retail outlets that offer plastic bag recycling,” Angel said. “Many of our bag vendors have implemented ecofriendly practices at their facilities to ensure they are good stewards of our natural resources.”
This is the opinion of John Boyle. To submit a question, contact him at 232-5847 or email@example.com
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