Though we do not operate in a critical water area, water is essential to our operations at FirstEnergy. Our water management approach focuses on both water quantity and quality – and serves as a prime demonstration of our commitment to environmental stewardship.
We maintain a rigorous compliance process to meet all permitting rules and regulations. In accordance with our power generation-related permits, we closely monitor a wide range of quantity and quality metrics, and report findings monthly to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) or respective environmental agency. Our permits are open for public comment and can be reviewed here. We also strive to comply with all federal, state and local permits required for our transmission and distribution projects.
Additionally, we provide detailed responses each year for the CDP Water and CDP Climate questionnaires. To find our most recent CDP Water and CDP Climate reports and learn more about our water management practices, please visit our EESG Reports and Resources page.
POWER GENERATION WATER QUANTITY MANAGEMENT
Water quantity management involves ensuring we have enough water to run our two regulated coal-fired power plants, reducing water withdrawal and use where possible, and monitoring water releases to help ensure we're doing our part to use water responsibly in our communities.
Both of our regulated coal-fired plants – Harrison and Fort Martin – function with 100% closed-cycle cooling systems (with cooling towers), which use approximately 90% less water compared to once-through, open-cycle cooling systems. This has helped our regulated generation fleet avoid about 90 billion gallons in water withdrawals every year, reducing our use of this important natural resource.
We also run additional reuse processes at both Harrison and Fort Martin to further minimize water use at the plants. At Harrison, we collect landfill wastewater – called leachate – and recycle 50% for use in the scrubber while carefully treating the rest before safe release to the West Fork River. This process reduces the amount of water we withdraw from the river for use in the scrubber by about 144,000 gallons per day, or approximately 52.5 million gallons annually. At Fort Martin, we run a similar recycling project to return leachate for use in the cooling tower, which reduces the amount of water we withdraw from the local river by about 88,200 gallons per day, or approximately 32 million gallons annually.
As we continue our focus on these environmental stewardship efforts, we have set a goal to further reduce water consumption at our two coal plants by 20% by 2030, based on a 2019 baseline. Please see our EESG data table for additional water reporting.
We're targeting a 20% reduction in water consumption at our two regulated coal plants by 2030 from our 2019 baseline.
POWER GENERATION WATER QUALITY MANAGEMENT
Water quality management involves closely monitoring the contents of water used at our two plants, carefully managing wastewater, and appropriately cleaning and treating water to remove metals and other compounds before release. We monitor water releases to help ensure we're protecting surface water and groundwater in the areas where our plants operate, and aligning with compliance standards set by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The scrubber process at our Harrison plant is a zero-discharge system, which means we release no water as part of those operations. Instead, we carefully collect water from the landfill at Harrison and either recycle it for use in the scrubber or treat the landfill water to clean it before release. At Fort Martin, we use sophisticated water treatment methods to remove metals and other compounds before release.
TRANSMISSION AND DISTRIBUTION WATER MANAGEMENT AND PROTECTION
On the transmission and distribution sides of our business, we also take special care to minimize our impact on the quantity and quality of natural water resources.
During the planning and siting of projects, we employ a permitting review process to minimize environmental impacts of construction activities and daily operations. Through conducting that process and pursuing the permits required by federal, state and local regulations, we survey for sensitive environmental resources. This survey also assesses the area for potential rare species' habitats that may be located in and around existing and proposed rights-of-way.
Our first goal is always to avoid any impact on wetland and stream habitats. First, we evaluate project plans alongside the wetland and stream data collected from field surveys. After careful consideration, we then choose options and construction practices that avoid any sensitive resources identified in the field survey. However, when it is impossible to avoid a habitat, we take action to minimize and mitigate potential impacts, as warranted. Some examples of minimization and mitigation strategies include:
- Traversing non-forested wetlands via construction matting, rather than graveled access roads, to facilitate faster restoration of an area to pre-construction conditions after the work is completed.
- Using a temporary bridge or timber matting that spans bank-to-bank when stream crossing is unavoidable, which avoids direct impacts to the stream and enables the banks to restore to pre-construction conditions after work is completed.
- Cutting trees by hand within forested wetlands, instead of with machinery, to minimize ground disturbance from access when clearing within the forested wetland is unavoidable due to required clearances or structure placement.
- Limiting stump removal from forested wetlands to the location of the new facility (e.g., structure foundation, substation expansion, etc.) when removal is unavoidable.
- Purchasing credits at a mitigation bank, paying into an in-lieu fee program or establishing a project-specific mitigation program to offset any permanent wetland impacts.
Additionally, we develop storm water pollution prevention plans (SWPPPs) as part of our transmission and distribution project planning process. These SWPPPs are project specific and rely on best practices for both preventing erosion from stormwater runoff and protecting the quality of local waterways and tributaries from construction-related silt and sediment. Plans are developed by our Environmental group and provided to the Construction & Design Services group to help ensure compliance with all applicable stormwater pollution prevention rules and regulations.
We also focus on preventing erosion and protecting waterways outside the scope of project planning. For example, we built retention basins around our LEED-certified Center for Advanced Energy Technology (CAET) to prevent flooding and erosion by restricting the flow of rainwater back to streets and storm drains. As part of our Energizing the Future transmission program, we also install similar retention basins around newly constructed substations to protect communities and local waterways from flooding and erosion. In addition, our CAET facility features a bioretention system that uses soil, sand and vegetation to help remove pollutants from rainwater before releasing the water back to the community's storm drain system.