Archive for February, 2014

Lake flushing with dirty water, composting toilets on the waterfront, free energy and fantasy heat: Upscale urban Eco-survivalism

February 14, 2014

A downtown waterfront development proposal selected by Port and City Staff to present to the Port Commission that envisions national and international recognition was poorly researched and contains embarrassing errors and misunderstandings that may well bring wider recognition, but perhaps not desirable recognition.

One of the claims in the proposal is that the Granary renovation will provide “Onsite generation of all annual heating requirements”, and another is that it will improve “the drinking water quality for over 80,000 people”. It should be noted that this is not a proposal for Port property, but the claims are about what can happen once the Granary passes from public to private ownership, whence “The ground floor will feature a fish market and a brew pub/restaurant. The rest of the ground floor will be a variety of retail spaces. The second floor will contain professional offices. The third, fourth and fifth floors will be residential, with commanding views over the harbor, the City, and the redeveloped waterfront.”

Benefits to the public will be in the relationship and interaction of this private space with the community mostly in the form of a lack of negative impacts. We would, for example, be able to enjoy the peace of mind of having some of the electrical power provided to the community come in the form of renewable energy, but it is likely that it would be sold into the grid at market rates with some profit incentive included for the building owners.

Looking into the details of the community-benefits claim in the proposal reveals another difficulty: “In addition to creating a district-wide power source, the turbine will generate enough waste heat (approximately 15%, or 300 kW) to heat The Granary. This integrated energy design of The Granary (renewable power generation and heat recovery) will meet the LBC imperative of Net Zero Energy.”

Tollhouse Energy’s website displays evidence of impressive professional experience and expertise with regard to hydroelectric power, however the Army Corps of Engineers also has hydroelectric experience and expertise, and their website promoting hydroelectric power,, states that “Hydropower plants do not emit waste heat”. That’s because hydropower converts mechanical rather than thermal energy into electrical energy, so leftover energy from inefficiency is mechanical, not thermal, and it is the reason cooling towers are never seen near hydroelectric power plants. All the ‘waste energy’ that hydroelectric power turbines cannot capture is the kinetic energy of the outflowing water. Even in cases where 100% of the energy is ‘wasted’ such as Niagara Falls, James Joule famously calculated that the heat generated by the turbulence at the bottom of the falls that absorbs the energy of the falling water should raise the water temperature by 0.1 degrees Celsius. However heat loss through evaporating mists more than offsets the rise so that water is cooler at the bottom of the falls than at the top.

This is an embarrassing faux pas that should have been discovered by someone at City or Port Staff, and certainly at Tollhouse Energy itself, but maybe their engineers are never asked to review their public relations documents before they are released.

Some of the proposal is surely workable and easily done such as change to low sloping green roofs designed to filter runoff, but what are the community benefits of foregoing City water “to meet the goals of Net Zero Water” by treating the raw lake water for potable uses, reusing greywater for non-potable needs, and that “Blackwater will be treated and composted on-site (no wastewater discharged from the building)”? Imagination fails: just what are the benefits to the community of having one building on the waterfront forgo using city water and sewer?

Another claim for the benefits of the project is flawed in several ways, the claim that using enough water to require water diversion from the Middle Fork of the Nooksack River would result in water quality improvement in Lake Whatcom.

Firstly, the City of Bellingham controls the lake level with a dam on Whatcom Creek and could simply release more water whenever the creek was below flood stage if Middlefork Diversion operation weren’t restricted by an agreement with the Tribes to maintain instream flows in the river.

Secondly, the water from the diversion is sediment laden and passes through a settling pond before it enters Lake Whatcom. The question of how much the Middlefork Diversion contributes oxygen-depleting phosphorus to the lake is answered in detail in a Washington Department of Ecology water quality study of Lake Whatcom described in the document “Lake Whatcom Watershed Total Phosphorus and Bacteria Total Maximum Daily Loads Volume 1. Water Quality Study Findings” available from the Department of Ecology. Some relevant information can be found on pages 35, 68, 71, 129, and 131 through 136. Among the findings were that by shutting the diversion off (that’s right, off), “The resulting change to lake dissolved oxygen levels was very small. There was about a 0.02 mg/L increase in dissolved oxygen at oxygen levels where the base scenario is deficient. For comparison, the Base scenario requires additional 1.07 mg/L oxygen to meet criteria in the same range. The results of these scenarios are shown in Figure 31.”

This is another oversight that implies that review of the development proposal at the City didn’t include people familiar with the City’s Lake Whatcom water quality work.

Altogether there doesn’t seem to be much benefit to the community and we are left with trying to think of ways to appreciate that someone will have “commanding views over the harbor, the City, and the redeveloped waterfront”, that is, commanding views over the rest of us.