The Jamestown Board of Public Utilities recently unveiled its strategy for complying with the state's new mercury regulations shortly before announcing it had received an award for safety and reliability as a public power provider.
By Dec. 31, a system for measuring mercury emissions out of the two smokestacks at the Samuel A. Carlson Generating Station on Steele Street must be operational and certified by state officials.
Prolonged exposure to mercury - a byproduct of coal burning - has been known to cause a number of health problems, most notably with the brain and the central nervous system.
To monitor mercury emissions, the BPU will spend more than $75,000 on a system that captures the element in a carbon-filled glass tube for a pre-set time period, so the tube can be shipped to an independent analyst for testing.
In addition to the up-front cost of installing the system, it will cost money to conduct the mercury tests and to capture certain amounts of the harmful element if and when that is required - though it remains to be seen how often the BPU will have to conduct such tests, according to Dave Leathers, BPU general manager.
''It depends on what rule we fall under,'' Leathers said. ''We might have to do annual testing; we might have to do semi-annual testing; we might have to do continued monitoring.''
The monitoring system will be purchased from Apex Instruments of Fuquay-Varina, N.C. No bids were submitted when the BPU requested proposals for such a system, though a deal was soon worked out with Apex Instruments to acquire one.
A federal appeals court recently struck down the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's mercury regulations since they included a cap-and-trade program that would have allowed certain power plants to pollute more mercury than others. That would have put people living around those power plants at a greater risk, something the courts determined the EPA was not empowered to allow.
Because of this, only the state's mercury rules currently apply to the BPU.
''We are required to do this under the state rule,'' Leathers said. ''The federal EPA mercury rule was vacated, so there's not a federal rule at this time.''
The discussion over mercury-monitoring equipment took place at a recent BPU board meeting. At the same meeting, Leathers announced the BPU has been certified as a gold-level Reliable Public Power Provider, joining 83 other public power utilities out of more than 2,000 nationally to receive the certification
So-called RP3 certifications are given out by the American Public Power Authority to recognize utilities for reliability, safety, staff training and improvement. There are three certification levels: gold, diamond and platinum.
''RP3 designees exemplify the highest standards of utility operations,'' said Paul Allen, who chairs the RP3 review committee. ''These utilities are leading the way in providing reliable and safe electric service to their communities.''
Months ago, BPU officials found themselves simply looking for more information on the certification process so they could know what they would have to do in the future to receive such a distinction. They did not expect to be already fit for a gold-level certification, according to Leathers.
Preliminary approval of the certification was announced in March.
Only three public utilities in New York have received the same sort of designation. The Massena Electric Department has received a diamond-level certification; Freeport Electric has received a platinum-level certification; and the Boonville Municipal Commission has received a gold-level certification, according to the APPA.
''This earned seal of approval is an endorsement of the quality work our employees do every day in support of our customers and our community,'' Leathers said.