Tenaska gets DEP approval on revised air-quality plan for South Huntingdon power plant

Joe Napsha
| Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, 10:42 p.m.

State environmental regulators have approved the revised air-quality plan for development of a controversial $500 million natural gas-fueled power plant in South Huntingdon.

The approval is the last regulatory hurdle for a Nebraska company to build the power plant in a rural area about a mile from an elementary school. The location is one of the objections of a group of residents opposed to the project.

The state Department of Environmental Protection in Pittsburgh said the plan approved on Feb. 12 will reduce the start-up and shutdown emissions from the two natural gas-fired turbines of the 950-megawatt power plant proposed by Tenaska Pennsylvania Partners LLC, an affiliate of Tenaska Inc. of Omaha.

Responding to the state's approval of the air-quality plan, Monte Ten Kley, director of development for Tenaska's Westmoreland County plant, said Tuesday the company is advancing toward its targeted construction start early this year. Commercial operation of the natural gas-fueled power plant is targeted for 2019, Ten Kley said in a statement.

“We are grateful for the support we have received from many of the residents and leaders of South Huntingdon Township and Westmoreland County, and we look forward to starting construction and making anticipated economic benefits a reality,” Ten Kley said.

The plant is expected to produce about 300 jobs during construction and have 25 employees when in operation, company officials have said.

Tenaska had revised its original air-quality plan because the turbine manufacturer determined there would be fewer pollutants released from starting up and shutting down the power plant than initially determined. The company, which operates 11 power plants in seven states, believes a 20 percent reduction in the number of annual startups and shutdowns of the plant helped lower the projected emissions.

Tenaska's site for the plant is about a mile south of Interstate 70 and Route 31. The plant would cover about 50 acres of the 400-acre site. The plant will be connected to the multi-state electrical power grid.

Opponents of the proposal, who have 30 days to file an appeal to the state Environmental Hearing Board, complained about the pollution that will be created by the plant and its proximity to Yough School District's Mendon Elementary School.

Cynthia Walter of Hempfield, a scientist and environmental activist, said Tuesday she was not surprised that the state approved the permit.

Walter, an associate professor of biology at St. Vincent College near Latrobe, called the DEP's permit approval “unhealthy, unnecessary and unjustified.”Walter testified at a public hearing last month that the plant still will spew 1,635 tons of toxins into the air each year.

Opponents also complained about plans to pump the plant's wastewater into the Youghiogheny River, a distance of about 3 miles.

The Clean Air Council, a Philadelphia-based environmental organization, objected to Tenaska's air-quality plan and filed an appeal to the state over its approval.

Alex Bomstein, the attorney who handled the appeal, said the organization declined to comment on the state's approval.

Tenaska began developing plans for the plant in 2009. The project was postponed in 2011, 2013 and 2015.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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