Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Editorial: A reasonable plan for Earth-friendly project
With appropriate permit conditions, the antenna for the Western Virginia Water Authority will be unobtrusive.
From the RoundTable blog
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The Western Virginia Water Authority is embarking on a system upgrade that promises big environmental gains, but at a cost.
The plan calls for building a 120-foot monopole on Read Mountain, just outside the bounds of a conservation easement that protects Roanoke County's Read Mountain Preserve.
Some nearby residents and land preservationists object that it will spoil the natural views from inside and outside the 250-acre park. They want the authority to find another site.
Easier said than done. The upgrade requires a network of 10 radio antennas covering the entire Roanoke Valley, and Read Mountain's Summit Ridge was chosen for one after a study of 62 sites. The authority commissioned the study with the charge either to co-locate antennas on existing structures or use water authority assets.
Three of the antennas will share 911 emergency services towers in Roanoke city and county, and six will be attached to authority water tanks. The tenth is planned for Read Mountain, on the site of an existing water tank. That antenna requires a separate tower because the tank is not tall enough to get the radio frequency out over the mountain.
So the antenna will be put on a monopole — provided the county board of supervisors grants the required special-use permit.
The planning commission recommends granting it with certain conditions attached. The supervisors should allow it under those conditions and one other: that the water authority not lease space on the monopole to any other carrier without express permission.
Preservation advocates object to a transmission tower within view of a preserve that explicitly bans such a structure within its bounds.
We agree protecting the view is important.
The authority sited the monopole in a way to make it unobtrusive, tucking it into the trees 200 feet below the ridge line, leaving the top of the tower more than 100 feet below the ridge. Even in winter, with many trees bare, a balloon test showed it would be hard to see.
These seem reasonable accommodations, and the authority is seeking ways to further mitigate any impact. To the extent the pole will detract from the view, the loss must be weighed against the project's gains for customers and the environment.
Over the next 18 to 24 months, the water authority will replace its mechanical residential and commercial meters in Roanoke and Roanoke County with electronic meters as part of a larger infrastructure upgrade. The new metering system will eliminate the need for meter readers driving all over the valley and cut water losses from leaks. Overall energy savings will allow the project to pay for itself.
This adds up to good stewardship of natural resources and the public purse. A key component is the network of antennas to collect data from meters and transfer the information to base stations, which will report it to the water authority's file servers at least four times daily.
Surges in usage that signal underground leaks will be evident almost immediately, cutting water losses. And energy savings from the project in its entirety — including replacing old water pumps and some HVAC and lighting systems — is expected to lower electricity use by 5 million kilowatt hours a year for a savings of about $500,000 annually and lower carbon emissions by about 8.5 million pounds.
That is Earth friendly.