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Citizens voice concerns about Renovo gas-fired power plant

Photo by Paul Weaver for The Express Ralph Kisberg speaks at a rally against a proposed natural gas power plant in Renovo, Pennsylvania on July 17, 2021. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection granted a permit in April 2021 for Renovo Energy Center LLC to construct and operate a gas-fired power plant in Renovo Borough.

RENOVO — The conditions were less than ideal. The day was hot and humid, with threat of thunderstorms. The flying insects were out for blood. And midway through one of the speeches, a 200-car coal train clattered its interminable way through the far end of the park.

Nevertheless, the group of almost 100 concerned citizens hosted a rally last Saturday at the 16th Street Park in Renovo, to raise awareness about the health and environmental impacts of the natural gas-fired power plant proposed for the town, were undeterred.

Maureen Ruhl, emcee for the event and member of Renovo Residents for a Healthy Environment, describes herself as a trucker, miner, business owner, and caring Renovo resident. In her opening remarks she acknowledged that the proposed plant will transform Renovo in many ways, and she called on fellow residents — all of whom will be living “one to two football fields away from the plant” — to engage in honest conversation about the possible impacts the plant will have on the community.

Rather than allowing “a handful of people” to make decisions that will affect all of our lives, she said the community needs to come together and examine some hard questions: Will the plant actually bring much-needed jobs to local workers? Will the barrier to be erected on Erie Avenue impede our view of the mountains? Who will be responsible for the brownfield cleanup? What environmental impacts will result from the eight miles of natural gas pipeline being laid through Sproul Forest? She concluded by saying that we should not be coerced into accepting “easy truths and easy money. Let’s let our voices be heard!”

The featured speaker at the rally was Ralph Kisberg, who has worked in both the oil and gas and renewable energy industries and is now an energy policy consultant for the Lycoming County-based Responsible Drilling Alliance. He cautioned that, as Pennsylvania makes the transition to more cost-effective renewable energy, the “proposed Renovo Energy Center is an attempt to ride the last of the wave of natural gas for electrical power in our Commonwealth,” and this wave is now “petering out.”

Kisberg quoted from a blog that the president of Bechtel Enterprises, the development company behind the power plant, put out a year ago called “Are We Nearing a Watershed Moment for Clean Energy?” In this report, the company encouraged “90% carbon-free power by 2035,” a plan that “would nearly eliminate the harmful particulate matter, nitrogen oxide, and sufur dioxide produced by the power sector, saving 85,000 lives and $1.2 trillion in health and environmental costs.”

This past June, many of our local public officials, from both Renovo and Lock Haven, signed a letter of support for the Renovo plant, claiming that the PJM grid needs this new plant for “baseload power.” But Kisberg pointed out that the Bechtel company itself stated in their report that we will need only 10% of our power to come from greenhouse gas emitting sources to maintain reliability. And Pennsylvania already has enough gas-powered plants in operation to provide our share of this baseload.

Kisberg concluded his remarks by urging Renovo residents to catch the “new large, long-running economic wave. The renewable energy era is coming and, as a designated economic justice community, you can catch it and get the kind of jobs and development that will be a lot healthier to live with.”

From the start of the rally, a contingent of plant supporters — several of whom were from out of town –let it be known that their minds were already made up. Several refused to take the fact sheet the group had prepared or simply ripped it up and threw it away. Rather than engage in productive dialogue, they determined to let their voices be heard by heckling the speakers. Nevertheless, the event ended peaceably. The crowd dispersed, folks went for ice cream . . . but the questions raised by the rally continue to linger in the air.

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