West Newton meeting slated on proposed natural gas plant
A Chicago company’s plan to build a 550-megawatt, natural gas-fueled power plant across the Youghiogheny River from the Sutersville area will be discussed Thursday at a public meeting in West Newton.
The meeting is designed to raise awareness in the Westmoreland County communities from West Newton to Sutersville about the plans by Invenergy LLC, a privately-held energy company, to build a power plant near the village of Smithdale, along the Great Allegheny Passage in Elizabeth Township, said Ashley Funk, community organizer for the Mountain Watershed Association. The Champion-based environmental organization will conduct the meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. at the West Newton Gymnasium, South Fifth Street.
With the focus of Invenergy’s efforts to obtaining the proper zoning for the plant and the plant permitting process focusing on Elizabeth Township and Allegheny County, “the people along the Westmoreland (County) side of the river don’t know what to expect,” Funk said.
The proposed site for the plant is a 147-acre property that is a former strip mine with a second-growth forest on it, Funk said.
The Elizabeth Township commissioners in December approved Invenergy’s request to change zoning from a rural residential classification to light industrial, thus allowing the company to build the plant at a former scrap yard. The commissioners’ zoning decision cannot be challenged until the township issues a building permit to Invenergy, Funk said.
Invenergy announced in January 2016 plans to build its Allegheny Energy Center. It initially sought to build the plant in a former fly ash dump, but moved it to another site when the township zoning hearing board rejected a zoning change. The privately-held company says on its website that it has developed 146 projects worldwide and owns and operates large-scale renewable and other clean energy generation and storage facilities.
Invenergy did not provide a comment about the status of its plans for the plant.
Invenergy needs to obtain state and county permits before it can operate the plant. Invenergy canceled a pre-application meeting with the state Department of Environmental Protection on Aug. 8 and that has not been rescheduled, said Lauren Fraley, a DEP spokeswoman in Pittsburgh.
The environmental regulators are not reviewing any permit applications for this project at this time, Fraley said.
The Allegheny County Health Department is in the process of drafting an air quality permit for Invenergy, said James Kelly, the department’s environmental health director. Once the permit has been drafted, there will be a public comment period as well as a public hearing to receive comments on the permit, Kelly said in a statement.
Elizabeth Commissioner Andrew Kuzma, board president, said he does not know why the Mountain Watershed group would become involved when the wastewater from the plant would be treated in the township’s sewage treatment plant before being discharged into the Youghiogheny River. The company has promised to give the township $25 million to upgrade its sewage treatment system, Kuzma said.
Kuzma said he expects that Invenergy will present a land development plan to the township by the end of the year.
“This power plant would be the best thing to ever happen in Elizabeth Township,” said Kuzma, a lifelong township resident. It will create about 600 construction jobs and about 27 full-time jobs, he said.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, [email protected] or via Twitter .