Dresden starts up, with some opposition
DRESDEN--After a six-year pause, the electric power station in Dresden has started to produce electricity again, capping a controversial three-year bid for regulatory permission to convert the 80-year-old coal-powered plant to run on natural gas or biomass.
Attorneys for Greenidge Generation LLC announced the successful restart in a March 31 letter to Ontario County Judge William F. Kocher, who since January has been considering a motion for an injunction to block the repowering.
The restart -- long planned for this spring -- may sidetrack relatively recent calls to analyze a potential environmental threat posed by the plant. According to several affidavits filed in January, the plant's daily discharge of millions of gallons of hot water may spur outbreaks of toxic algae.
The aged station had been mothballed in 2011 and was briefly slated to be sold for scrap before Atlas Holdings of Greenwich, Connecticut, Greenidge's parent company, bought it in 2014.
Since then Greenidge has invested more than $10 million preparing to restart one of the plant's four units. It is expected to generate up to 107 megawatts of power, running intermittently as a supplier of power during periods of peak demand. The company recently completed a 4.6-mile natural gas pipeline to the station to supply it with fuel.
The project has enjoyed consistent political support from federal, state and local officials in Yates County, who have cited benefits that include new jobs, tax revenues and spin-off economic benefits. The Cuomo Administration awarded it a $2 million state grant.
Meanwhile, opponents have argued that fossil fuel projects like Greenidge undermine Gov. Andrew Cuomo's clean energy initiatives, including his call for a 40 percent cut in the state's greenhouse gases by the year 2030.
Judge Kocher has been weighing arguments from the Sierra Club and others that the state Department of Environmental Conservation took shortcuts in allowing the project to proceed. The DEC waived a full environmental impact statement, and it still hasn't approved updated water withdrawal or discharge permits.
At a hearing in Penn Yan Jan. 24, attorneys for the plaintiffs asked Kocher to issue a temporary injunction to bar a restart, pending a full environmental impact statement. They pointed to the recent affidavits, which assert that massive hot water discharges from the station are likely to encourage further toxic algal blooms in Seneca Lake.
Attorneys for Greenidge and the DEC urged the judge to reject the affidavits because they were not filed on time. Kocher assured both sides that he understood the urgency of the case and would rule promptly.
After more than nine weeks without a ruling, Greenidge attorney Yvonne Hennessey wrote the judge to explain that the restart had just occurred. That fact, she said, "effectively moots" the Sierra Club's call for the injunction.
But attorneys for the plaintiffs rejected Hennessey's conclusion. In a letter to Judge Kocher dated April 3, Rachel Treichler wrote that the restart did not make the motion for an injunction moot. She argued that the harms plaintiffs seek to address are incremental each day the plant operates. "The vast bulk of harms have yet to occur," Treichler wrote.
Hennessey said she also informed the DEC about repowering the plant.
Although the DEC is well aware of the growing threat of toxic algal blooms in the Finger Lakes, the agency's lawyers joined Hennessey in seeking to suppress the affidavits linking the toxic blooms to the plant's hot water discharges.
Breathing or touching toxic algae can trigger nausea, vomiting, skin irritations and breathing difficulties. Long-term exposure has been linked to liver and colorectal cancer.
According to a DEC analysis, harmful algal blooms, or HABs, nearly tripled in New York State between 2012 and 2016, and outbreaks with "high toxins" quadrupled. Last August, an outbreak occurred at Perry Point, just south of the Keuka Outlet, where Greenidge discharges its hot water.
According to peer-reviewed scientific studies, toxic blooms are more frequent in fresh water as nutrient levels and temperatures rise. Water running into the lake from the Keuka Outlet contains a relatively high nutrient load.
Adding warm water to the mix near Dresden could "result in increased HABs outbreaks in that area," according to a Jan. 14 affidavit from biochemist Gregory Boyer of Syracuse, a toxic algal specialist.
That concerns Linda Downs, who lives on the shore of Seneca Lake about one mile north of the Keuka Outlet. She and her husband use lake water for showering, washing dishes and brushing teeth.
According to an affidavit Downs filed in the case, the DEC has proposed allowing Greenidge to discharge "up to 190 million gallons per day of condenser cooling water from the plant's 'once-through' cooling system with a maximum water temperature of 108F in summer and 86F in winter."
The DEC's standard since 2011 for coolant water discharges is "closed-cycle," where hot water is recycled before being discharged. "Once-through" systems are cheaper, but far more damaging environmentally.
Requiring Greenidge to adhere to the modern standard could cut water withdrawals by 93-98 percent and proportionately cut hot-water discharges.
Greenidge filed an application with the DEC for an updated water discharge permit in August 2015, but the agency hasn't issued a ruling yet. Neither has it committed to an amount that it will allow the company to withdraw from the lake.