Greenidge hearing draws large turnout
DRESDEN--Some 170 people attended an information session and public hearing on the reopening of the Greenidge power plant in Dresden Wednesday, Nov. 4. The meeting was held at the Dresden Fire House by the New York State Department of Public Service. More than 50 residents spoke during the public hearing both in support and against the proposed reopening. However, most of the comments entered into the record Wednesday evening were in opposition to the project.
Greenidge was initially a coal-fired power plant that was built in 1937. Current Facility Manager Dale Irwin said the plant underwent more than $40 million in upgrades in 2006 to environmentally upgrade the facility, before going offline in 2011. The current proposal involves converting the facility to 100 percent natural gas, using biomass and fuel oil as intermediary fuels.
A four and a half mile pipeline is also proposed through Yates County along the Keuka Lake outlet to connect the power plant to the Empire Connector gas pipeline. Atlas has previously claimed the restart could restore more than 30 jobs to the area. The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) approved a Draft Title V air permit which could allow the plant to come back onto the market. The company has also expressed interest in exploring opportunities to add solar power installations on the 300-acre property.
Irwin spoke briefly detailing information regarding the plant's reopening, while Joel Moore, principal of Integrity Engineering PLLC, spoke about the pipeline project. Some of the questions brought up during the informational meeting included what safeguards the new pipeline will have in the event of a leak, if the project will be using gas from the Crestwood storage facility in Reading and the amount of water the plant will be using from Seneca Lake.
Moore said the eight-inch pipeline exceeded requirements and has a higher safety factor than needed for the project. He noted half of the route is through agricultural areas, adding there are automated actuators back at the source that would shut in the Empire Pipeline if there was a leak. Irwin stated they have over half of the pipeline land rights from property owners and are making good progress with the other half. Irwin added no land rights would be taken by eminent domain.
When asked if the plant would get any of their gas from Crestwood, Irwin responded they would not, as they would have to pay a fee to use their gas storage facility.
"We are definitely, absolutely not thinking about that," Irwin said. "We absolutely have no plans in utilizing any storage facility, because all it does is increase our costs. We are going to be competing on a market rate and purchasing our gas through a gas supplier. We are not going to be purchasing storage for this facility. It will be sourced off of a gas marketer that we will contract with."
When asked about the maximum water extraction permitted at the plant from Seneca Lake, one resident expressed their concern that the plant is licensed to withdraw and discharge up to 190 million gallons of water per day for the cooling system. Irwin said while they are permitted to do so, he claimed "physically, it is absolutely impossible with the technology and the pumps that we have installed to do that." Irwin stated Greenidge will only withdraw and return around 60 million gallons per day when operating. He added while permits also allow the discharged water to be up to 108 degrees in the summer time, the temperature differential between the incoming and outgoing water will only be around 12 degrees higher, no matter what the lake temperature is.
Prior to the informational meeting, more than 30 people against the reopening of the plant held a brief press conference outside of the fire house listing their concerns. Many of them held up signs instead supporting clean, renewable energy alternatives such and wind and solar power. Speakers included Lindsay Speer, Finger Lakes regional coordinator for New Yorkers Against Fracking, Sandra Steingraber, speaking on behalf of Concerned Health Professionals of New York, Peter Gamba of the Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes, and Suzanne Hunt, president of Hunt Green LLC.
"Greenidge provides no evidence of a public need or economic feasibility for this facility," Speer said. "Upstate New York has twice the energy capacity [...] as our demand. [...] There is no need for this facility, and absolutely no need to build another natural gas pipeline to power it. To do so only commits us to further use of fracked gas from Pennsylvania and additional contributions of methane to climate change."
Steingraber expressed her safety concerns with the proposed pipeline, citing potential leak and explosion risk. She claimed the plant's reopening contradicts Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Reforming Our Energy Vision (REV) initiative to promote clean energy investment and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Hunt agreed, stating renewable energy is now out-competing fossil fuels and claimed it would be better to invest in a utility-scale solar installation.
Gamba, a Yates County resident, said there is no public need for more electricity in the central New York region, adding claims the voltage levels are low need to be proven. He also stated he is troubled by the lack of information on the plant's business plan. Several of the speakers reiterated their concerns during the public hearing held later in the evening.
While the majority of public hearing speakers were not in favor of Greenidge going back online, Dresden Mayor Bill Hall claimed many of the opposing comments came from people who do not live in the area.
"We have around 300 people who live in the village, and not one of them is against the plant reopening," Hall said. "We need the plant and we need it right now."
Hall called the demonstration in front of the hall prior to the meeting "a big show," and "a joke," noting some of the nearby wineries have written letters in support of the plant restarting operations. He said it is a very clean plant compared to other power facilities its age, reiterating Irwin's point that this project has nothing to do with the controversial Crestwood LPG storage project in Reading.
"The plant has been open since 1937," Hall said. "If we didn't kill anyone with coal, we aren't going to hurt anyone with gas."
Several public officials spoke in favor of the project during the hearing. Yates County Legislative Chairman Tim Dennis read part of the legislature's unanimously approved resolution in support of the restart, adding he would like to see the facility back online as soon as feasible. He said the money invested in the plant before its closure helped make it one of the cleanest facilities in the northeast that is able to meet even the most stringent federal emission standards.
"The reopening of this plant is not an ideological issue," Dennis said. "It is about jobs, moderating the electricity rates and tax revenues for municipalities."
Allison Hunt, representative from Congressman Tom Reed's (R--Corning) office, read a statement from the congressman in support of the restart plan and pipeline construction. She said the plant "will bring tremendous benefits to the region," adding the transition from coal will be better for the environment. Allison Hunt also claimed natural gas is important to the region's energy makeup.
Sara Lattin, representative from State Senator Tom O'Mara's (R,C--Big Flats) office, read a joint statement between O'Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I--Corning) in support of the project. She said bringing the plant back online will immediately provide badly needed economic and environmental benefits to local communities and New York State. Lattin said the plant is needed to meet the growing demand for a stable supply of energy to the power grid statewide.
Michelle Phillips with the Public Service Commission conducted the hearing, noting the commission would meet during a procedural conference Tuesday, Nov. 10 to review the input gathered Wednesday and to use that information to determine what the process is going forward, which could include an additional hearing.