Brunner Island glitch leads to about 1,200 fish deaths

David Weissman

Officials say about 1,200 fish are dead after an operational glitch at Brunner Island Steam Electric Station caused surrounding water temperatures to drop suddenly in its discharge canal on the Susquehanna River.

The Brunner Island coal-burning power plant in York Haven was the third-largest source of a smog-causing pollutant in Pennsylvania in 2011, according to a Sierra Club report released this year.  (John A. Pavoncello -

Operators at the York Haven coal-powered plant were in the process of powering down one of the units at approximately 2 a.m. Saturday when the unit's automatic shutdown feature engaged, according to Todd Martin, a spokesman for Talen Energy, the owner of the plant.

The automatic shutdown caused a 13 degree drop in the surrounding water's temperature over a one-hour period, according to Martin.

The water in the plant's discharge canal is significantly warmer than the natural temperature of the Susquehanna River during the winter, and the fish are attracted to the area as a result, he said.

"We do what we can to try to prevent (the fish) from coming into the canal, but there's not much we can do since it's connected to the river," Martin said.

He said he's aware that Brunner Island has had some impact on fish in the past, but he did not know specific details.

The plant was previously owned and operated by Pennsylvania Power and Light (PPL) before Talen Energy, which broke off from PPL, took over last June.

Martin said the plant contacted the state Department of Environmental Protection and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission about the incident.

The DEP sent an investigator to the plant Saturday morning, and a notification of violation has been issued to the operators, according to department spokesman John Repetz.

Carp and catfish were among the dead fish noted by the investigator, Repetz said.

Repetz said fish kills happen from time to time due to plant malfunctions, but they occur infrequently. The last incident reported at Brunner Island occurred in Dec. 2013, according to DEP records, when 83 fish died after a pump shutdown reduced the amount of cooling water to the plant and resulted in a suddenincrease in temperature in the discharge channel.

Talen Energy is conducting an internal investigation to determine why the unit automatically shut down and how to prevent it from happening in the future, Martin said.

He added that no clean up of the dead fish is required, as "nature will take its course."

— Reach David Weissman at