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‘We need this project’

Officials: Benefits from power plant are plenty, majority support investment

EXPRESS FILE PHOTO Droves of people turned out at an open house in 2015 in Renovo to explain the Renovo Energy Centre project to burn natural gas to produce electricity. Interest in the project has remained high as the developer works toward gaining regulatory approval. At that event, Bill Bousquet, right, an employee of Innovative Power Solutions LLC — a consultant to project developer Bechtel Development Co. — stands next to a panel to explain the project and answer questions.

RENOVO — The proposal to build a natural-gas fired electric generating plant in Renovo would not be approved by the state “if it would hurt residents of Renovo and Clinton County.”

Those were the words of Ann Tarantella, borough council president, in the aftermath of a small rally this past weekend against the plant.

“There are two sides to the story,” Tarantella said, noting the project known as Renovo Energy Center already has received a plan approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection and would clean up and re-purpose what is a blighted and contaminated old railyard.

She said a majority of people she has talked to support the project versus a minority who are opposed.

Indeed, she said the Renovo Energy Center project would greatly benefit Renovo and the county with jobs, more tax revenue and increased investment in an isolated, mountain community that has been economically depressed for years.

“For one thing, our tax revenue is low. This project will help so we can get more positive things done in town. We’re now operating on less than $200,000 from taxes. We do get other funds, some earned income and grants, but it’s not sufficient to keep our town moving forward” with improvements.

“Ninety percent of the time we don’t have enough money to match grants to do anything,” she lamented.

Renovo Mayor Tom Tarantella Jr. echoed his mother’s comments, saying the project means survival and growth for Renovo.

“This is very important to the tax base it will bring to the municipality, not only for the short-term construction — they’re talking 800 jobs at th peak — but long-term, too. We’re struggling to pave streets and stuff. Every cent we can get to pay our employees and fix our own infrastructure, we do.”

The plant will be designed to be operated by upward of 35 permanent employees.

“I look at that as 35 families with children who will serve our local schools, and long-term, will hopefully want to stay rooted in the Renovo area,” the mayor said. “We are definitely a dwindling municipality” when it comes to population.

New jobs for families are key, he said, because “anything we can do to have more residents and good-paying jobs to keep them here, I’m all for it.”

As for bringing new life to the site, the mayor said the old railyard “runs deep in our history and heritage and to see that just sitting there? It’s been vacant my entire lifetime so to see that it finally could come back to life in my home town where I am mayor … it will be a great accomplishment for the future our community.”

The DEP’s Air Quality Program issued a plan approval for the proposed REC on April 29. During the formal public comment period, DEP received comments from 59 individuals and organizations and responded to each comment in a 48-page comment response document.

“The issued plan approval gives Renovo Energy Center legal authority to construct and temporarily operate until an air quality operating permit is issued. Prior to that, REC must demonstrate that all sources of air emissions at the facility are in compliance with the emission limits in the plan approval. This is typically achieved through stack testing, inspections, and compliance reporting. DEP will also need to verify that the facility was constructed and is operating in accordance with the terms and conditions of the plan approval. REC will be also required to submit an air quality permit application after commencement of operation of all sources at the facility. Other minor permits/authorizations may also be required prior to completion of the facility,” the agency said in a recent statement.

“On May 26, within the statutory 30-day appeal period, an appeal was filed before the Environmental Hearing Board by the Clean Air Council and two other environmental organizations challenging DEP’s issued approval. This does not prohibit the applicant from proceeding with the project if they choose to do so while the appeal is pending. The appeal process is essentially a formal legal proceeding that will result in an adjudication by an administrative law judge. The adjudication will resolve the legal issues raised by the parties, and it may be appealed to Commonwealth Court.”

The Clinton County Economic Partnership (CCEP) said a lot of benefit will come from REC.

“I, along with about 80 or so other people attended the ‘rally’ in Renovo on Saturday regarding Renovo Energy Center’s plans to construct a gas-fired facility at the former railyards,” said Mike Flanagan, the CCEP’s CEO.

“We all like to deal in numbers and it was clear a vast majority of the 80 or so in attendance were in favor of the project. When asked for raise of hands, about five or six protestors raised their hands when asked if they lived in Renovo, and about 30 supporters did likewise.

“Anyone can protest and rally over whatever they want and we respect that. But regardless of rallies and numbers, at some point, we all have to take the words of the professionals. The state Department of Environmental Protection has been on this project for several years and would not, in my opinion, approve a project plan that is going to kill people in Renovo and downstream, which was stated by the opposition at Saturday’s event,” Flanagan added. “Thanks to Renovo Energy Center, this is a chance for Renovo and the area to have a major windfall and perhaps keep in the area more than some of the students graduating every year from Bucktail Area. This may be the last chance for a home run, and I certainly don’t see anyone coming down the pike that will clean up a brownfield site with its own funds. We need this project and we need it now.”

No one from REC attended Saturday’s rally, but the company did release the following statement:

“We are privileged to be working closely with the Borough of Renovo and others to help transform a disused railyard site into a state-of-the-art facility that will provide a reliable source of low-emissions power for more than a million homes. This project will be an economic engine for the local community, employing hundreds of skilled workers during construction and unleashing sustainable growth.”

According to public documents, the project as proposed involves building a 1240-megawatt electric generating station at the former Pennsylvania Railroad and Philadelphia & Erie Railroad railcar repair and renovation facility at the western end of Renovo.

Bechtel Corp. is providing engineering and construction oversight for the plant, which would provide electricity for customers in Pennsylvania and New York.

The REC web site lists multiple benefits from the project. Among them:

–With a total installed cost of $750 million per unit ($1.5 billion total), REC will not only provide electricity for the regional grid but will also be an economic engine for Renovo and Clinton County. Construction is expected to last 34 months with jobs peaking at 900 skilled workers. The plant will employ 20-30 staff during the 25-plus year expected operation period. REC will provide positive local economic impacts including expanding Renovo’s tax base, and generating revenue for local contractors/businesses, service providers, hotels, and restaurants. REC will contribute millions of dollars to the local economy during construction and operation.

–The project will be subject to property taxes from three local taxing authorities (the Borough of Renovo, Clinton County, and the Keystone Central School District) during both its construction and operation. Although the project was eligible to participate in Pennsylvania’s tax abatement program, known as the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance (LERTA), REC has committed to not pursue a tax abatement under the LERTA program, and will pay its full share of all such taxes.

— In conjunction with the power plant, REC will conduct restoration projects at two local streams: Kettle Creek Restoration Project (KCRP)– REC will restore 2,400 linear feet of Kettle Creek, a designated Exceptional Value stream, by providing a segment of the stream above Leidy Bridge with channel features such as undisturbed creek reaches, and Brewery Run Wetland Enhancement Project — REC will enhance and/or establish existing or emergent wetlands, as well as conduct additional tree planting, to improve water quality, improve sediment retention and uptake of pollutants, and increase habitat value for wildlife.

The firm already has donated thousands of dollars toward Renovo’s revival.

“The project is championed by the Borough of Renovo and supports the energy transition from older, less efficient generation to low-carbon emitting power sources. Natural gas is a ‘bridge fuel’ in this journey and a necessity to having reliable and sustainable electricity, promoting the growth of renewable generation,” the firm says, adding, “once complete, Renovo Energy Center will be one of the cleanest, most efficient generating facilities of its kind.”

REC said it will invest millions in the plant to “utilize state of the art emissions control technology to protect public health and the environment. The facility operations will include round-the-clock monitoring and has been designed to be one of the most efficient generating facilities of its kind. The same class of technology as that selected for Renovo set a Guinness World Record title for powering the most efficient combined cycle power plant. It is expected that REC will displace existing electrical generation from older, less efficient, and higher emitting sources in the PJM electrical grid after coming online. Thus, REC’s operations can be expected to improve air quality in this regard, as Pennsylvania continues to shift more generation away from older and higher emitting sources.”

Upon completion, the facility “will be capable of powering more than a million homes with reliable, cost-effective and environmentally-responsible low emissions generation. The project will use clean-burning natural gas and state-of-the-art technology, including two combustion turbines (CT), two heat recovery steam generators (HRSG) and two steam turbines (ST) to maximize efficiency.”

The plant will be designed to “minimize water use by utilizing an advanced air cooling system instead of traditional water cooling. Additionally, there will be on-site storage tank for fire protection and other uses.”

Further, it said, “an advantage of advanced technology turbines such as those selected for Renovo is that they are able to operate on many other fuels, either in lieu of or blended with clean natural gas. Some of these fuels, such as hydrogen (H2), do not contain carbon in the first place, and will therefore not contribute to CO2 emissions when combusted.”

Finally, the REC notes the plant would be built on what is a “long-standing vacant, brownfield site with existing groundwater and soil contamination” and it is “committed to cleaning up and repurposing” the property.

Appropriately, the firm says on its web site, “Renovo is the Latin word for renew, repair, or revive.”

DEP, meanwhile, will not make a final decision on permit applications “until it has been determined that any necessary approvals are administratively and technically complete, meet the applicable federal and state regulations, and have considered all comments collected during the public comment period.”

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