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Allegheny Energy puts power plant off-line

| Monday, May 14, 2012, 10:03 a.m.

After 18 months of hearings, court wranglings and emotional pleas from citizens, the dispute over an electric-generating facility in Penn Township is over.

Allegheny Energy Inc. said Tuesday that it no longer plans to build the $49 million plant near Claridge.

'Although we still feel that's a viable site ... we've made the business decision to focus on other projects and move forward,' Allegheny spokeswoman Janice Lantz said yesterday.

Lantz said Allegheny's costs were a factor in its capitulation. She couldn't say exactly how much her company has spent to buy the more than 100 acres of land off Gombach Road, to undertake site work, or to pay for attorneys and other experts, but she estimated it was in the millions.

'Certainly the economics played a factor. But again it was a business decision, and we decided to look at other opportunities,' Lantz said.

Allegheny had intended to install two-unit, jet-engine combustion turbines fueled by natural gas to create power.

Tom Transue, head of the citizens group that opposed the plant, said he was both glad and cautious when informed of Allegheny's withdrawal.

'That's great news,' said Transue, president of the Conservation Association of Penn Township Area, or CAPA. 'That's really great news. I'm sorry it had to go this long and cost what it did, but I'm glad that level heads have prevailed. We're pleased with that outcome,' Transue said.

'But as long as Allegheny owns that land, we're going to be active in the local government and zoning hearing meetings to monitor the situation. As long as they own that property, I don't think it would take much for them to turn around and challenge the zoning ordinance.'

That challenge involved Allegheny's claim in Westmoreland County Court that because of other rulings made in the dispute, the township's zoning ordinance was unconstitutional because it prohibited the plant from being placed anywhere in the township.

Allegheny first filed the challenge with the township's zoning hearing board, then asked the county court to approve the plant after the zoning board suspended hearings until Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled in a related dispute.

Lantz said Allegheny attorney Bernard P. Matthews Jr. would soon file the needed paperwork to withdraw the county court challenge.

She also denied Transue's claim about her company trying later to put the plant on the Gombach Road site.

'We have no plans right now ... to develop that site,' Lantz said.

She also ruled out other sites in South Huntingdon Township as possibilities for a similar plant. The utility had been looking at properties near Hunker.

'We're not going to do anything with that Hunker site,' Lantz said.

Allegheny operates or plans to run similar plants in Allegheny, Fayette, Luzerne and Franklin counties.

James Garlick, vice president of the projects division for Allegheny Energy Supply, indicated talks with the township played a role in his company's decision to drop the challenge. Allegheny Energy Supply is the unregulated arm of Allegheny Energy and was the entity directly seeking to build the plant.

'In light of recent discussions with Penn Township, we have decided to focus on other priorities,' Garlick said.

Township Solicitor Les Mlakar confirmed he spoke several times with Allegheny representatives about the dispute. One such session occurred Monday, according to James Lindsay, chairman of the township commissioners.

'The commissioners, I believe, thought the use was valid, but in order to avoid extended litigation and the acrimony that revolves around it, I was to discuss ... that they walk away from the project,' Mlakar said.

'I would think (the talks) probably had something to do (with Allegheny's decision). I wouldn't say it was a major factor, but it was a factor.'

Lindsay said Mlakar was told by the commissioners to find a solution.

'I still think this is a viable project for Penn Township, but at this time the residents are better served to have Allegheny withdraw it,' Lindsay said.

'It has a lot of merit. (The plant brings) $40,000 in taxes a year, and it doesn't put another child in our school system, and it doesn't put another car on our congested road system,' he said.

Earlier, CAPA members won decisions in county court and state Commonwealth Court. Both courts decided the township's zoning hearing board erred when it granted a special approval for the plant to be built on land zoned for agriculture. Allegheny opted last month not to ask the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to hear an appeal in that case.

Lantz said Allegheny intends to do some grading work this fall and add dirt as cover at the site.

'We don't have any immediate plans for the property,' she added.

Transue suggested Allegheny give the property to the Bushy Run Historical Society or another community-related group.

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