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Foes of South Huntingdon gas-fired plant fight approval

Joe Napsha
| Monday, May 25, 2015, 10:45 p.m.

Three opponents of a proposed natural gas-fired power plant in South Huntingdon have challenged the state's approval of permits for the project, claiming that wind-and-solar sources for generating electricity were not considered and that the plant's air and water pollution will have a negative effect on people's health.

The Pittsburgh-based Group Against Smog and Pollution, the Clean Air Council in Philadelphia; and Cynthia A. Walter, a Hempfield scientist and St. Vincent College associate biology professor, filed appeals with the state Environmental Hearing Board in Harrisburg over the Department of Environmental Protection's April 1 approval of Tenaska Pennsylvania Partners LLC's plans to build a 950-megawatt power plant.

The trio filed the appeals early this month with the hearing board, which has yet to schedule a hearing. The board has set a June 26 date for a settlement conference among the parties.

Tenaska Pennsylvania Partners, an affiliate of Tenaska Energy Inc. of Omaha declined to comment on the appeals or whether the legal action would delay the company's plans for the project. Tenaska previously said the construction of the plant, which is to be located about a mile south of the intersection of Interstate 70 and Route 31, would begin during the summer and take three years to complete.

“The construction timeline is dependent on all the pieces coming together for the project to move forward. We continue to advance the commercial arrangements for the project,” Monte Ten Kley, Tenaska's manager of development, said in a statement. The project has been estimated to cost more than $500 million.

The Department of Environmental Protection declined to comment on the appeals, said John Poister, a department spokesman in Pittsburgh.

Although appeals have been filed, Tenaska is not prevented from proceeding with the construction of the power plant, Poister said. The court, however, could order a stay, which would stop any construction by the company, Poister added.

The Clean Air Council objected to the state's approval of the project on the grounds that the department did not consider alternative electrical power production from wind and solar sources. The council said the state provided no facts to support its argument that the state is not well-suited to energy production by wind and solar because of its geography and climate.

Contrary to the state's opinion, Pennsylvania has utility-scale solar panels and has windmill farms along the Allegheny Mountains in Cambria, Somerset and Blair counties, said Alexander G. Bomstein, a Clean Air Council attorney.

The council challenged the accuracy of Tenaska's modeling of the air quality in that region. If the air-quality modeling is inaccurate, it undermines the grounds for the permit, the council said.

Walter, who could not be reached for comment, stated in her appeal that the environmental regulator's claims regarding the impact on rare, threatened and endangered species were wrong. The state also erred in its assessment about the health impacts from the air pollution and the discharge of an estimated 1.2 million gallons a day of wastewater into the Youghiogheny River.

The anticipated emissions from the plant will not violate air standards, and the potential for air pollution is below levels that would pose a public threat, the DEP said.

The Group Against Smog and Pollution claimed the DEP approved Tenaska's application, even though it was incomplete in several areas, including not having sufficient information to perform a thorough evaluation of the plant's air pollution.

A GASP spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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