The TN legislature set aside a $13 million incentive fund for the move. All in vain! But 2016 the plant was purchased by LeMonde Composites to manufacture industry-changing high-volume, low-cost carbon fiber and consumer products, such as carbon-fiber bicycles, expecting to scale up to high volume production 2018-20. And again, that dream never came to fruition.
The park continued to remain mostly vacant. The ORNL Carbon Fiber Technology Facility and Philotechnics have been relatively small tenants. The latter is the sole private business. It has less than 20 employees.
Recently a developer intended to build a motor sports park here. It would have violated conservation easements. The plan also faced strong opposition from greenway enthusiasts and neighborhoods within hearing distance of the race track.
In December 2021 the old Terragenics plant was acquired by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to relocate development activities of Y-12’s National Security Complex from an outdated building on its main Oak Ridge campus.
Shovel-ready, but possibly not connection-ready
The Oak Ridge Industrial Development Board (IDB) has contended that insufficient electric power capacity — ready to be hooked up to — has been a major obstacle in marketing the park. For more than a decade IDB has urged the city to build a new high-capacity power line. But given a history of speculative utility extensions that had remained underutilized and didn’t recover their investments with expected tax revenues, the city could ill afford another uncertain gamble.
Several proposals and studies of where to locate a new power line focused primarily on the shortest distance between Substation 900 (at Blair Road west of Poplar Creek) and Horizon Center. Although that might minimize construction costs, most of this route would be along North Boundary Greenway.
Clearing required for a power line here would obliterate the scenic values of the greenway
Because of its nearly level course, this stretch at the bottom of the North Boundary Greenway loop is particularly suitable to walk and bike for families with young children. It is also much used by others who don’t feel fit enough for steeper greenway and trail segments or those who don’t want to exert themselves to an uncomfortable or dangerous degree on sweltering summer days.
A landscape worthy of preservation — literally at our front door
Photographs by Doug Colclasure
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So far, all proposals and studies have neglected to assess the indirect costs of lost opportunities and unavoidable impacts!
The most detailed engineering study of power line options, done in 2013 for the City of Oak Ridge Electric Department (CORED) by Cannon & Cannon, Inc. explicitly mentions that “estimated costs provided in this report do not include … environmental study costs … or other costs outside of the known access and construction method restrictions.” But like a 2011 Bechtel Jacobs Company LLC Environmental Study Report and the current CORED proposal that offers 6 options, it acknowledges neither the reality of externalities nor the economic value of the acres of forest to be destoyed and of the ecosystem services to be lost.
Furthermore, neither Bechtel Jacobs nor Cannon & Cannon noticed the coincidence of the proposed electric power right of way (RoW) with the already existing and well marked underground pipeline RoW! Thus, they failed to mention complications and safety concerns posed by the close proximity of the preferred route to the 300 psi natural gas pipeline.
Even Leidos — contracted by DOE to prepare the 2020 Addendum to Bechtel Jacobs’ Environmental Study Report — overlooked this pipeline, despite listing in a table under cumulative impacts that ORUD had constructed 1,742' of natural gas line in the natural-area corridor between development areas 5 and 6. Of course the regulator station for the low-pressure gas distribution lines of the park is located there (as shown on the map later in this article), but only a fraction of the total length of the distribution lines are actually within that short corridor. Leidos was aware of the park's gas infrastructure but did not care to check where that gas is coming from?
We need more engaged citizens like Doug
Retired engineer Douglas Colclasure, who worked at Y-12 and K-25, was the first to wonder whether it is permissible to locate a high-voltage power line in close proximity to a high-pressure natural gas pipeline.
Doug has been a staunch supporter of area biking, greenway and environmental groups. He often volunteers for hands-on tasks, such as trail building. He is an ardent observer of conditions that may threaten our natural heritage, open opportunities for better stewardship or for reaping greater public benefits from community assets. He monitors what’s happening in the meetings of councils and commissions that decide on land use and conservation issues. He is a great communicator, explaining complex ideas in an easily understandable way. Doug also generously shares his insights and photographs with everyone. He always submits thoughtful and forward-looking comments when the public is given the opportunity to do so.
After asking around and researching the power and pipeline literature, Doug discovered industry guidelines on the safety of collocated electric and gas transmission lines. This report states that electrical interference from high voltage power lines can accelerate steel pipe corrosion and “may pose a safety hazard to personnel or the public, or may compromise the integrity of the pipeline.”
The report defines 5 easy to estimate interference factors. They help to assess the probable severity of collocation issues and to recognize when a thorough engineering study is needed to more accurately quantify the risks and to determine what mitigation measures would be required to proceed with a project.
Below, the numbers of CORED’s preferred power line option are matched with the location specifics of the existing gas pipeline at Horizon Center.
Options 1 wants to put a 69 kV power line on the same 50'-wide RoW occupied by the 8" diameter, 300 psi natural gas steel pipeline. It renders a concerning ranking:
- Separation distance — When less than 100' separation Severity = High (Option 1 has less than 50'!)
- Power line phase current — When between 100 A and 250 A (or between 500 A and 1,000 A) relative interference Severity = Medium to High (Option 1A initially would have 217 A plus 615 A with future under-build.)
- Soil resistivity — Needs to be measured in place and will vary with temperature and moisture conditions, but is almost certainly below 10,000 ohm-cm and probably mostly below 2,500 ohm-cm, thus likely relative Severity = High to Very High (Our southern temperatures are high and this RoW is at the bottom of a hill with high groundwater table, mostly in a flood plain, i.e. soil rich in organic matter and often saturated!)
- Collocation length — When greater than 1,000' relative Severity = High (Length of option 1 is about 5,800'!)
- Crossing angle — When less than 30º relative Severity = High (In option 1 the gas and electric transmission lines will be parallel, i.e. close to 0º over the entire length!)
CORED downplays the concern, claiming measures could be taken to mitigate interference risks, but has not given any specifics of what it considers appropriate measures, let alone what they would cost.
Clearing the 50' RoW would totally eliminate the marvelous tree canopy that has grown over the past 75 years to cover the greenway. It is impossible to limit the tree cutting at a RoW boundary because utility companies cut tall trees “in the public interest” beyond that line if they might fall onto the wires. Trees in the BORCE are tall and, next to this RoW, many stand on a slope. If option 1A gets built, that condemns them automatically.
This greenway is specially attractive, because on many of its stretches the canopies now extended from both sides to meet almost seamlessly.
To make these trees respect the boundary of the RoW, CORED may deem it necessary to mutilate them horrendously, a sight we are aware of only too well from seeing how many utilities maim trees next to power distribution lines along highways.
What’s particularly ironic about the option 1 route choices is that they are prone to damage the Black Oak Ridge Conservation Easement (BORCE), which was set up to compensate for environmental damages.
Advocates for the Oak Ridge Reservation (AFORR) argued against using a somewhat shorter version of this “preferred” route in a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) as early as 2012 because of ecologic impacts, violation of existing conservation easements, and degradation of the greenway’s present and future recreational, social and economic values.
Excerpts from a letter dated October 2, 2020, in which the Oak Ridge Environmental Quality Advisory Board (EQAB) informed the Oak Ridge City Council about the importance of these values:
At its Jan. 13, 2022 meeting, the Oak Ridge Recreation and Parks Advisory Board also unanimously approved a resolution that the City consider other options for providing additional power to Horizon Center.
However these appeals — along with others to DOE and the City of Oak Ridge — fell on deaf ears.
It is perplexing that Oak Ridge City Council and staff appear to have forgotten already the facts and conclusion from the 2017-19 intensive community-wide visioning process that resulted in the Oak Ridge Blueprint Plan — which was approved unanimously by Council just three years ago! Did they ever look at it, if not study it?
They’ve also demonstrated obliviousness of the recommendations in the Oak Ridge Natural Assets Guidebook, prepared by the Legacy Parks Foundation for the City of Oak Ridge, Anderson County and Roane County. The guidebook was commissioned after the City Blueprint revealed not only that preservation of open space, natural beauty and critical environmental areas is among the top priorities for the city, but also that it is the priority that enjoys the highest degree of consensus among Oak Ridge residents.
Below is a page from that guidebook. Hard to grasp?
TRISO-X announcement is a game changer
The power-line project now seems to have become a necessity. No concern is due about this company’s solvency either. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, or BIL) allocates almost $2.5 billion through 2025 to DOE’s part of the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program. Moreover, the Department of Defense and NASA also partner in the program — for mobile military and extraterrestrial nuclear reactor projects.
Terrapower and X-Energy have been selected to demonstrate their reactor prototypes by 2030. Each company will split the cost of its reactor with DOE. X-Energy asserts it could eventually receive around $1.1 billion under its agreement with DOE.
Since 2016, X-Energy has built up teams in the Oak Ridge area which now total 40 employees at 5 locations. One of them is the TRISO-X Pilot Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The company has invested over $75 million in this project, so far. It hopes to start up the commercial TRISO-X Fuel Fabrication Facility (TF3) as early as 2025, create more than 400 local jobs and attract some $300 million in investments to the area economy.
The article inserted below provides additional details about Horizon Center, BORCE, and options of the present power line proposal. It was written by AFORR Board members Virginia Dale, Ellen Smith and Jimmy Groton for the May newsletter of the Harvey Broome Group of the Sierra Club’s Tennessee Chapter.
The Foundation for Global Sustainability (which publishes Hellbender Press) supported the establishment of AFORR as a nonprofit corporation in 1999 and became AFORR's first organizational member.
Oak Ridge Reservation still lacks site-wide environmental impact statement
The impetus for the creation of AFORR was DOE’s failure to follow its own guidelines to prepare a cumulative site-wide Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for its Oak Ridge Reservation (ORR). As defined by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) an EIS must assess all past, present and reasonably foreseeable future impacts of human activities.
An EIS establishes thorough scientific background information and is valuable as a baseline reference for efficient management of activities on a property and for effective conservation of its natural resources.
Despite repeated assurances, the ORR has remained the only major DOE site across the nation without a site-wide EIS. Meanwhile, some comparable DOE locations have already prepared a second EIS!
“Now is the time to say whoa, wait a minute — time out! Let’s stop the incremental environmental damage to the Exclusion Areas and and mistaken application of NEPA, and engage all stakeholders to reach the most balanced plans going forward to achieve a universally defensible and beneficial outcome. Furthermore clearcutting a power line RoW through the most beautiful and sensitive natural areas cannot be in the best interest of all stakeholders. It just simply cannot. Remember CORED originally requested a RoW much wider than the proposed 50' width. TVA recommends 75' for a 69 kV line,” Doug Colclasure said.