Power project raises aviation safety concerns

February 2, 2012

A careful study of aviation safety concerns is “imperative” when the Oregon Department of Energy reviews a proposed gas-fired power plant to be built near the Portland-Troutdale Airport, AOPA said in a Jan. 31 letter to the state agency.

Troutdale Energy Center LLC said it will seek a site certificate to construct the power plant on industrial land adjacent to the airport. The property is owned by the Port of Portland.

AOPA expressed disappointment that the notice of intent (NOI) submitted by the developer failed to discuss possible hazards to aviation, including thermal plume turbulence, plant-generated fog or low ceilings, tall structures, and possible restrictions on airport operations.

At a minimum, that public filing should have explained how the plant’s builder would comply with FAA regulations that establish standards for the height of structures around airports, wrote AOPA Northwest Regional Manager David Ulane.

“It is imperative that the Oregon Department of Energy evaluates the potential impacts of this project on aviation activities as it considers this NOI,” he wrote.

Another concern for aviation is that security arrangements for a power-generating plant near an airport can complicate airport operations, he added.

“In the past, the FAA has at times imposed ‘no-fly’ zones around some power generating facilities in response to security issues,” he wrote. “Were such a ‘no-fly’ zone ever implemented at the proposed site, given this project’s proximity to the Portland-Troutdale Airport, operations could be severely restricted or prohibited,” he wrote.

The Oregon Pilots Association has also submitted comments on the proposal.

A local newspaper reported that the proposal has generated controversy over air-quality concerns because of the site’s location about a mile from the Columbia River Gorge.

It said that the New York-based power venture has been motivated to build the plant in a bid to satisfy Portland General Electric’s need for sources of power demanded by its 800,000 customers. A coal-fired plant on its grid is scheduled for closing in 2020, the report said.

The newspaper reported that the developers seek to have a portion of the gas-fired plant operating by 2014, with more generating capacity on line the following year. The plant would use oil as a backup fuel.

The notice of intent gives an expected date of April 2012 for an application for a site certificate to be filed. A comment period and public hearings would follow submission of the application, it said.

AOPA will remain engaged in the issue and report to members as the proposal moves forward, Ulane said.