Oil rigging

Nova Scotia Power has made some recent changes, but there are still problems with air and noise pollution in Tufts Cove. Carsten Knox reports.

photo Darryl James

Fran Christie-Wright has lived on Sunnydale Avenue in Dartmouth since 1975. The dark water in the narrows of the Halifax Harbour is visible from her home, though partially obscured by the behemoth that is the Tufts Cove Generating Station. She’s close enough to those three red and white stacks to hear the hum of the electricity generated within and she has seen the distinct mark of the ash that falls out of them.

“I had a big zucchini leaf with a white spot on top of it,” she says. “In mid-September I noticed spots on my car. I tried to wipe them off but I couldn’t. The rain washed it off.” In her 30 years in the neighbourhood, she says she’s had to have at least two cars repainted because of the fallout, but she credits Nova Scotia Power with helping cover certain expenses. “They’ll deal with you better than when the government was running the power plant. They’ve got to get their rates somehow.”

PJ Awad of Springhill Road says pollution issues have been ongoing. She won’t say how recently she’s noticed fallout; she does keep track of it on a calendar and she and her neighbours take their complaints to the power company directly. “Every now and then we put in bills for the damage caused to us personally. Everybody knows the situation. Any fool driving down Magazine Road and they look up and see the cloud of amber that we’re living under, they know it’s got to be falling. What goes up must come down.”

Since a multi-million dollar upgrade in November 2000, the station, with a combined 350 MW capacity, has been able to burn natural gas in each 50 MW turbine unit, a cleaner-burning alternative to the traditional bunker C fuel oil. Other modifications included low nitrogen-oxide burners and new emission monitoring equipment.

There’s no doubt the air quality has improved in recent years. Robert Watson, a retiree living on India Road, remembers in the past when they had “blue snow.” “Your windshield is still dirty every morning,” he says. “But it’s not the oily dirt like it used to be.”

However, reports of pollution problems have continued: In July 2003 the oil burners had to be shut down and cleaned because they were throwing ash into the air and onto local homes. Christie-Wright says sometimes it’s the burning odour that’s the worst of it. “When they fire up one of the boilers after one of those oil tankers have come in, you get the smell from that.”

What may clear up the fallout problem dramatically is the addition of two electrostatic precipitators, equipment that uses electrodes in the form of parallel plates or tubes that act as particle collectors. All three of the stacks have them. One was installed in the past few days and one in the last couple of months, joining one installed some years ago. With fully operational ESPs, says NSP spokesperson Margaret Murphy, most of the fly ash that would otherwise be leaving the plant will be captured and recycled. “We’ve spent $20 million this year on the new technology to prevent that problem from occurring,” she says. “It should remove particulate up to about 94 percent.”

As the air pollution issues are being addressed, there’s still a problem of noise pollution. Patricia Behan, a resident of India Street, says she is in discussions with the plant managers. She points to two vents from the natural gas turbines as the source of her discomfort. “We’re not people to complain,” says Behan, “but it’s very loud, it’s like you’re in an airplane. Sometimes it’s late at night. In the summer we couldn’t sit out here {on the porch} because of the noise.”

She says the noise has been a problem for about two years. The administration from the plant has been willing to discuss the sound problems.

NSP’s Murphy won’t identify the cause of the noise, but admits there will always be sound issues around a power plant. “We’ve constructed a sound wall around transformers and replaced plant doors, but we are aware that for some residents located closer to the plant, the noise may be more of an issue. We’ve asked residents to be involved, and there are more independent sound measurements coming up.”

Behan is cautiously optimistic. “They were doing testing all of last week. They’re trying. You can’t make everybody happy, but we were here before they were.”

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