Seaford's 80-year-old power plant will stay idle for now

By Lynn R. Parks

The city's power plant won't be turning out electricity any time soon. The Seaford City Council voted Tuesday night to accept the recommendation of the electric committee not to renovate the plant to meet new state pollution standards. "It just doesn't make sense" to renovate the plant, said Councilman Mike Vincent, who is council liaison with the electric committee. The money that the power plant could generate does not justify the cost of the pollution-removal devices, he said. Those devices would cost about $1.5 million, he added. "We were looking for a 10-year turnaround," he said. "But it looks like it would be about 10 times that, a long time." The 80-year-old Seaford power plant, which has not been in operation since December 2005, has five diesel-powered engines, made in 1958, 1954, 1953, 1939 and 1962. In August, Mark Prettyman, environmental scientist with the Air Quality Management branch of the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, described them as "very old, very dirty machines." Under state regulations that went into effect January 2006, the plant cannot resume operations until the city has a plan to reduce pollutants by April 2008. The plant's "pollutant of concern," Prettyman said, is nitrogen oxide, a "precursor," or contributor, to ground-level ozone, the smog that is especially harmful to those with breathing disorders. It is that ground-level ozone that the government is referring to when it issues a high ozone warning. The new state standard requires that an existing generator operating for non-emergency purposes emit no more than four pounds of nitrogen oxide for every megawatt hour of power that it generates. The federal Environmental Protection Agency estimates that engines like those in the Seaford plant have a pollutant load of at least 32 pounds of nitrogen oxide per megawatt hour.

The Seaford plant can generate 7 megawatt hours of power.
Seaford's plant would also have to reduce the carbon monoxide, a poison, and carbon dioxide, which contributes to climate change, which it spews out, as well as particulate matter, the small particles in exhaust that are linked with lung disease. Tuesday night, the city council also accepted the electric committee's recommendation that the plant stay in working order, in case the city needs emergency generation. The plant's state permit allows for emergency generation. The permit also allows the generators to operate one hour a month so that they stay in running order; in addition, city employees turn the engines over twice a week. Mayor Ed Butler said that he was pleased that the plant would be kept operable. Councilman Mike Vincent added that the city will continue to monitor electricity prices and, should the time ever come that the plant could earn a profit, the matter will come before the city council again. Seaford resident Ted Gruwell, who attended the city council meeting, challenged that idea. "Seaford can't afford to keep an electric department, just for emergency power," he said. "And I don't think you will ever be able to justify operating it again." Gruwell suggested that the plant and its equipment be sold. "The city could have a big savings there," he said. No member of the council responded to Gruwell's suggestion.

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