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Commissioners endorse Renovo power plant

Board says benefits outweigh any environmental impacts

LOCK HAVEN — The Clinton County commissioners have cemented their unanimous support of the proposed Renovo Energy Center LLC, natural-gas-fired power plant in Renovo.

The board — Chairman Miles Kessinger, Jeff Snyder and Angela Harding — previously voiced their support of the potential plant, but hadn’t put it down in writing until Thursday’s meeting with a unanimously passed resolution.

Following that approval, Clinton County Economic Partnership CEO Mike Flanagan said the project is projected to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to tap natural gas in the Marcellus Shale and provide electric power to Pennsylvania and New York State customers.

Flanagan said CCEP has been working with REC for nearly nine years to place a power plant in the former railyard at the Renovo Industrial Park.

“We believe it can be a great economic and environmental positive to the community. We would be talking about 700 construction jobs in and out for two and a half years; about 25 permanent jobs with trouble shooter jobs coming in,” Flanagan said. “The amount of investment that would take part, and has already taken place, for the Renovo Energy Center has been tremendous.”

Flanagan acknowledged there has been some pushback to the proposal, including appealing the firm’s air quality permit application.

“There are a few groups that have opposed this project. Hopefully, Renovo Energy Center and these groups can work things out. Or it will go to an Environmental Hearing judge and we can hope we have this project (in 2022). Or at worst, sometime in 2023,” he said.

Flanagan thanked the commissioners for their support of the project “since day one.”

He also pointed out the investment has support from Renovo Borough Council, Renovo Community Trade Association, 76th State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz and state Sen. Cris Dush.

“They’ve been very supportive of this project and, hopefully, we can get it moving here very soon,” Flanagan concluded.

Harding offered her own comments on the project following its approval.

She said she considers herself an environmentalist and keeps environmental concerns in mind.

“I believe that we need processes and regulations in place to reduce the impacts of industry,” she said. “However, I am also a realist regarding our need to be energy independent, the need for economic development in our community (and) I’m realistic about the growth.”

Harding acknowledged that you can’t “flip a switch” and have clean and sustainable energy.

“And so, it’s because of those things that I have to trust that the regulations and the agencies entrusted to protect people are doing their job,” she said.

“I also have the belief that, because an overwhelming majority of the people in the Renovo area want this to happen … my duty as a representative (is) to not only trust the agencies in place to protect those people, but to trust those people know what’s best for their community,” she concluded.

The power plant “will benefit the environment by displacing more polluting forms of energy generation,” the board’s resolution states.

Further, the resolution says the project would “restore and enhance sensitive areas to offset impacts from the construction. These areas include enhancing wetlands near Brewery Run and along 2,400 lineal feet of Kettle Creek, and reforesting areas in Sproul State Forest.

The commissioners “believe that the construction of the natural gas energy generation plant will be in the economic best interest of residents” and would be a “productive use of the vacant industrial park site” while also serving to “boost the economy of Renovo and surrounding communities.”

The REC project is estimated to cost $850 million to $1 billion when all is said and done.

Groups opposing the project, including the Pennsylvania-based Clean Air Council, say it would emit harmful pollution by way of particulates and nitrogen oxides and would see nearly seven miles of pipeline to move natural gas from a nearby transmission line through Noyes and Chapman Townships.

Rick Franzese, REC project manager, recently provided an update on the initiative in an op-ed in The Express.

“The REC project remains viable so long as the appeal of the project’s air permit is favorably resolved,” he stated. “Investor interest in the Renovo facility remains high, and increasingly so in light of current events. In particular, the war in Ukraine has highlighted the need for energy security and independence, which for the near-term in the United States can be reliably provided by domestically-sourced natural gas. Renewables, such as solar and wind, are not yet fully reliable baseload power supplies, even when augmented with the most advanced storage technology currently available.”

Increased regulation is making coal-fired generation less viable, he said, so “gas-fired plants such as Renovo are needed to replace that baseload capacity.”

“State-of-the-art power plants such as the approximately 1,240 megawatt REC project come online, they typically displace electricity that would otherwise have been generated by older and less efficient coal-fired and other older baseload plants with less effective pollution controls, resulting in a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,” he added.

The appeal of REC’s air quality permit is posing a hurdle to the investment, he said.

“Under normal circumstances, REC would have begun moving to close on project financing and start of construction for the PJM unit upon executing the interconnection agreement with PJM. However, plant construction requires a major financial commitment, and the mere existence of the appeal to our air permit represents a financial risk that lenders and investors must consider. While we are confident that the Environmental Hearing Board will eventually uphold the permit, the simple fact is that despite the low probability of the permit being rescinded or substantially revised, the potential financial costs if that happened are substantial, and lenders and investors are rightfully concerned (e.g., think about asking a bank to approve a loan so you can start building a house before the property has been approved for that use),” Franzese wrote.

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