Lycoming County Natural Gas Power Plant Meets the Usual Opposition
Plans are in the works for the first ever Marcellus Shale fired natural gas power plants in Pennsylvania. Permits for the first, in Bradford County, have already been approved. A hearing on a plant proposed for Lycoming County took place last week.
There are some very exciting plans in the works in Pennsylvania. Applications have been submitted for the first two natural gas fired power plants that will operate using locally developed natural gas from the Marcellus Shale. Altogether, there are applications for six new natural gas power plants in the Commonwealth. The permit for the plant located in Bradford County was approved in October making it the first of its kind to run off the natural gas produced here in the Marcellus Shale. Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) held a hearing last week for the second plant proposed in Lycoming County, and it was, unsurprisingly, met with opposition from local activists opposed to Marcellus development.
Existing Power Generation in Pennsylvania
As you can see in the following map from the EPA, Pennsylvania utilizes a diverse energy plan to meet its energy needs.
Included in that energy plan, is a recommendation to use natural gas in power generation, something that has been happening for decades in the Commonwealth. According to the EPA’s website, Pennsylvania currently has 31 natural gas power plants, which meet roughly 5 percent of the state’s energy needs.
That low percentage of power generation from natural gas is set to increase as companies, like Moxie Energy, LLC, build new plants to take advantage of abundant natural gas supplies, much of which is currently being exported out of Pennsylvania to places like New York and New Jersey. That’s welcomed news to Pennsylvania energy users, who have witnessed many benefits of Marcellus Shale development going to out-of-state metro areas. Fortunately, there’s enough to go around thanks to the prolific Marcellus Shale.
The Moxie Patriot Plant in Lycoming County
Moxie’s plan is to build a power plant in Clinton Township, Lycoming County, in an area zoned for heavy industrial use. It’s near the location where Halliburton is currently building a facility that will house cement making operations, warehouses, office space, and other uses supporting the natural gas industry. Here is an aerial view of the plot of land where the plant is proposed.
The power plant will be fueled only by natural gas (no diesel oil back-up), and will not require river water or any other large source of water typically used for cooling needs. It will consist of two combustion turbine generators that will each produce between 225 and 350 megawatts of electricity. The combustion turbines will be connected to two heat recovery steam generators where the hot exhaust gases from the combustion turbines will produce steam that will be directed to two steam turbines. The steam turbines will produce an additional 250 MW to 300 MW of electricity.
According to Moxie, if approved this project will:
- It brings permanent, high paying jobs
- It brings a significant, long term tax base
- Will be used to fund schools
- Offset property taxes currently being paid by residents and businesses
- It provides a stabilizing factor for lower energy rates in the area
- Lower energy rates may attract additional businesses
- Lower energy rates may help produce more jobs
- It provides clean energy to Pennsylvania and surrounding areas.
Construction of the project will take approximately 30 months and employ an average of 200 skilled and non-skilled workers and a peak workforce of about 500. The direct construction payroll is expected to be about $40 million; the indirect and induced payroll (an estimate of the money spent on outside goods and services such as hotels and apartments, food, clothing, gasoline, and other things) is expected to be about $80 million using a conservative multiplier of two.
Once completed in mid 2015, the $800+ million investment will provide a significant and steady tax base to the area, 25 to 30 high paying technical and operations jobs, and an ongoing source of community programs.
Here is a diagram of the plant as it’s currently proposed.
In spite of all the benefits the plant will provide to the community and environment, 15 of the 17 people who testified at the hearing, spoke out against the project. How can this be?
What’s All the Fuss About?
Quite simply, most of the speakers were not from the region and it was clear from the get-go they were more against Marcellus Shale development than they are clean burning power plants. One speaker, Dave Laodacer, said he fears the hearing is “a dog and pony show” because industry controls government. While he’s a bit confused on what will determine DEP’s decision whether or not to approve the plant, he nailed the dog and pony show right on the head. After all, haven’t most of the compressor station hearings the DEP has held become just that? Often they are simply used as a platform by those opposed to development as a means to press their agenda with no real concern for the quality of life the infrastructure will improve? While for a different piece of infrastructure, it appears the same tactics applied for the public hearing on the Lycoming plant. For a clear example of this let’s take a look at some of the comments.
Moxie has taken into account air emissions. It’s one of the reasons they chose to build a natural gas powered plant. From their website:
In addition, the presence of a modern, low-emission power plant will help shift the source of power away from older plants with greater air emissions. By using only natural gas for fuel and the Best Available Control Technology (BACT) for air emissions control, the Moxie Patriot Generation Plant will produce nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide emissions that are about 80 percent less than a comparable new coal plant, carbon dioxide emissions that are about 45 percent less than a comparable coal plant, and sulfur dioxide and particulate emissions that are more than 99 percent less than a comparable coal plant. In total, Moxie Patriot will meet or beat all Pennsylvania and national air compliance and health-based standards.
What about water usage? Well, another non-resident to speak was Iris Bloom, from Protecting Our Waters. Interestingly, though, Bloom didn’t speak about water. Rather, she focused her comments on climate change. Regardless, Moxie Patriot has addressed water usage as well. From Moxie’s website:
Importantly, Moxie Patriot intends to use a cooling system that does not depend on drawing large amounts of water from the Susquehanna River or groundwater resources. In fact, no river water will be used at all. Instead, the project will use air-cooled condensers. These devices function much like a car radiator where cooling is done by fans moving air over finned tubes. Use of air-cooled condensers eliminates any river impacts, including potential impacts to species of special concern. It also eliminates any potential for vapor plumes that can be visible under certain atmospheric conditions. Fan noise will be minimized using special blade design and low output motors. A photograph of a power plant using air-cooled condensers is shown below (provided by GEA Power Cooling, Inc.)
Only a couple of people who spoke at the hearing were even from Lycoming County, so the issues with which most local residents would be concerned(e.g., noise, light, aesthetics) never even came up. Typically, someone will ask, “What will it look like on the landscape and how will it most noticeably impact the community?” Such questions usually get asked, but not this time. Nonetheless, Moxie Patriot is taking those concerns into account as well. Again, from Moxie:
All impacts to neighbors and the environment are intended to be minimized to the greatest extent practical. Both noise and visual impacts to residents of Clinton Township will be minimized by location in the heavily industrial area of the Township, facility design standards, and set-back distances from the facility property line. With this location, building enclosures, and other noise-dampening measures, sound levels at the nearest residences to the plant’s property line will not be increased noticeably from existing levels.
Moxie Patriot also expects to use architectural landscaping and other thoughtful enhancements that make the plant more “neighbor friendly”. Such enhancements might include operational factors like shielded lighting that is directed downward at night and minimal signage.
It all comes down to one simple fact; this plant is a cleaner energy option. It utilizes the resources being developed in the area, rather than exporting them to other states such as New York where there is currently a de facto moratorium on developing natural gas (while it blithely continues to be one of the greatest consumers of it in the country). The plant will provide jobs and help us continue our push towards achieving energy independence. And, finally, it’s something we need in our county and in Pennsylvania to help meet our growing energy demands. Quite frankly, I’m excited Moxie Patriot chose Lycoming County, my county, as a location for such a facility, and hope the DEP continues to look to science to make their decisions.