Ga. Power opens lab to reduce water consumption
by Walter C. Jones, Morris News Service
The utility withdraws water from rivers near its power plants, and returns 90 percent of it back to those streams. But the amount that goes up the cooling towers in the form of steam is still tremendous. Other water is used in capturing emissions created in the burning of coal and natural gas, and that water has to be processed before it can be returned to streams as well.
That gives the company plenty of incentive to discover affordable ways to reduce water usage as the federal government begins the first wholesale revision of the 40-year-old Clean Water Act with the likely result of imposing tougher, more expensive regulations. Georgia Power CEO Paul Bowers told the dignitaries and industry executives at the Nov. 19 opening ceremony in the shadow of the giant cooling towers that he supported the $12 million cost of equipping the new laboratory because the company is a good steward of natural resources.
"Why are we doing this? Because it's the right thing to do," he said.
Georgia Power put up half the cost, and the rest came from 14 other utilities and industry research foundations. Companies can sponsor projects with the understanding that the research results will be shared publicly unless they pony up extra. A joint committee will evaluate proposals — even those from Georgia Power — and decide what goes ahead based on likelihood of success and potential benefit in terms of costs or staying one step ahead of regulators.
"The goal of the Water Research Center is to engage everyone, academia, regulators of what we're doing, what the technologies are, where the weaknesses are, where the gaps are," said Jay Wos, water research manager for the Southern Research Institute, one of the largest partners in the center. "... You don't want to get in a situation where you do this, and (regulators) keep changing the rules — where they move the line, move the line, move the line, and the economics come in."
The center's scientists offered tours of the labs scattered around the colossal power plant, although most of the equipment still must be hooked up. Their enthusiasm was on display as well as the gadgets and gizmos.
"These are like toys for a water chemist," said Richard Breckinridge, the center's manager of water technology.