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Aurora Energy LLC

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Aurora Energy LLC (not to be confused with the Australian-based Aurora Energy Pty Ltd, a Tasmanian government-owned utility), is the owner and operator of the coal-fired Chena Power Plant in Fairbanks, Alaska.[1] It is a private company, owned by Joseph E. Usibelli, Sr., Joseph E. Usibelli, Jr., and Rosalie Whyel.[2]. It sells the power to Golden Valley Electric Association.[3]

In Sept. 2004, attorney Paul A. Barrett, concerned about thermal discharges into the Chena River, petitioned the EPA to revoke the plant's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), which the agency denied.[4]

In Sept. 2011, in response to a citizen petition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began investigating "unidentified black dust" suspected to be coming from the plant and the dump trucks that haul coal ash to storage sites and for backfill around the city.[5] As of August 23, 2012, the EPA had not returned to the city to conduct its investigation.

In Jan. 2012, the EPA released a preliminary assessment report.[6] In it, a description of how the plant receives coal is described, as is the potential for coal to fall from the plant's conveyor belt into the Chena River. Additionally, it describes black dust covering both the north and south banks of the river for which the company was cited by the EPA. The company and the agency settled the violation in 2005 for a fine of $33,000. The company has since installed additional equipment on its conveyor belt to catch coal before it can fall into the river.

The EPA's report also details how some of the 50,000 tons of coal ash the plant generates annual drifts into nearby neighborhoods and is collected by companies contracted to haul it away where it is "stored" at several locations around town and commonly used as backfill.

Additionally, the EPA's 2012 report states: "The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) has indicated the facility has committed opacity violations during soot-blows between 2001 and 2004. In 2006, the plant installed a "full stream baghouse" that the report states now collects 100 percent of the ash from the plant and that the trucks that haul it away must go through a wash area where the coal ash is removed from the tires with water in the summer and air in the winter.

Under section 3.4.1 in the report, it's noted that the nearest residence to the plant is 150 feet southwest of the plant, that there are 11 schools within a four-mile radius, and that the plant employs 27 people. In the report's summary, it's stated that 35,291 people live within four miles of the plant, which is situated in downtown Fairbanks. It also notes that Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge is located one mile north of the plant.

According to an August 2012 interview with Doug Buteyn, Environmental Program Manager of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC), coal ash is often given away to Fairbanks-area citizens for free and "stored" coal ash is not regulated or monitored.

In 2010, the plant applied for and received a permit[7] "for the construction of a work pad for staging, storage, and the possible fabrication of pipe to be used in Aurora's district heat system. The applicant will fill 5.85 acres of wetlands with coal ash to bring the property up to grade with the placement of approximately 47,000 cubic yards of fill with a top dressing of gravel." The permit stated that the public was notified, but James K. Spiers, of ADEC, confirmed via e-mail on Aug. 23, 2012, "Again, these are not permits but solid waste as fill projects regulated under 18 AAC 60.007. They are not considered disposal and thus do not require a permit. Since they don’t require a permit from ADEC, no public notice is issued or required." The site is within the Fairbanks North Star Borough, near the city's international airport.

The EPA's 2012 report confirms this: "Coal ash is transported off site and used as structural fill throughout Fairbanks for residential and commercial developments, as well as road construction. Analytical results of coal ash from the plant indicate significant concentrations of barium, lead, and mercury with respect to background concentrations. Since coal ash has been used as fill throughout Fairbanks, the surface area of this contamination is not known."

The plant is adjacent to the Golden Heart Utility Water Treatment Plant, which supplies drinking water to the residents of Fairbanks. During an Aug. 23, 2012, interview with independent journalist Rhiannon Fionn-Bowman, Marci Irwin, Environmental Program Manager of the State of Alaska's Division of Environmental Health, explained that one of the water treatment plant's three wells is located inside of the coal plant and that it is covered with a concrete box to prevent coal ash contamination. She said she was not sure how long the box had been in place, nor has she or anyone in her office seen it in person. She further explained that she was relying on information from a draft survey report submitted to her office that same week and that the public would not be able to review the document for at least 30 days so that her office could review and correct it if necessary.

The existence of one of the water treatment plant's wells was confirmed by the EPA's 2012 report.

Existing Coal Plants

Plant Name State Year(s) Built Capacity
Chena Power Plant AK 1952, 1975 27 MW

Contact details

Aurora Energy LLC

Physical location:
1204 1ST Avenue
Fairbanks, Alaska 99701

Corporate headquarters:
100 Cushman Street
Suite 210
Fairbanks, Alaska 99701

Articles and Resources

Sources

  1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "Aurora Energy LLC", Environmental Protection Agency website, accessed August 2009.
  2. Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development, "Entity Details"], State of Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development Corporations, Business & Professional Licensing, accessed August 2012.
  3. "Golden Valley resolves contract disputes" Golden Valley Electric Association Website, January 13, 2006
  4. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website, "Order Denying Review", U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website, accessed August 2012.
  5. The Daily News Miner, "EPA investigating coal dust in Fairbanks", accessed August 2012.
  6. "Aurora Energy Coal Power Plant Preliminary Assessment", Prepared for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by Ecology and Environment, Inc., accessed August 2012
  7. Wastewater Discharge Permit, State of Alaska Division of Water, accessed August 2012.

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