Norfolk Naval Shipyard can go ahead with power and steam plant, state air quality regulators say

The ballistic missile submarine USS West Virginia (SSBN 736), center, departs from Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va., Oct. 24, 2013, following a refueling and overhaul.


By DAVE RESS | The Daily Press | Published: December 5, 2020

NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — Norfolk Naval Shipyard can proceed with plans to build a plant to supply the steam and most of the electricity it uses, the State Air Pollution Control Board ruled.

The board found that the new facility would not boost pollutants — including sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide — above air-quality standards.

Its staff analyses also found increased emissions of those chemicals would not be significant, although the board staff did note that increases in very small particulate matter would be significant.

The shipyard wants to install two natural gas-powered turbines, each capable of generating 7 megawatts of electricity, as well as a boilers, heat-recovery generators and one 2.4 megwatt steam turbine.

The $30 million project would allow the yard to generate its own steam, instead of purchasing it from the nearby Wheelabrator plant. The plant also would supply most of the electricity the yard now receives from Dominion Energy.

James Boyd, president of the Portsmouth branch of the NAACP, said the project would add pollutants to the already bad air, raising serious environmental justice concerns.

In a letter to the board, he also said forecasts of emissions miscalculated totals, by reporting pollutant totals from one gas turbine and one burner from the steam generator, instead of calculating the total of all the turbines were operating.

University of Richmond geography professor Mary Finley-Brook noted that the shipyard is a Superfund site, which means its neighbors are more vulnerable to harm from emissions.

Finley-Brook said the assessment of impact on community health was inadequate.

A study for the board by two Massachusetts-based PhD toxicologists said air currently is safe and new plant would not change that, while board staff said air quality in the area had improved over the past 20 years.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation executive director Peggy Sanner said she is disappointed that the board did not require monitoring and reporting of actual emissions from the plant, once it is operating, in 2022.

“There are serious environmental justice concerns around building a new fossil fuel plant in this predominantly African-American community, which is overwhelmed by health risks from industrial pollution, she said, adding " Portsmouth residents already live near high concentrations of toxic waste at the nine Superfund sites within a 15-mile radius.”


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