Two schools, a lake and a river are all within a mile of the proposed facility
By AVERY LAMB/ecoRI News contributor
KILLINGLY, Conn. — As residents of Burrillville, R.I., campaign against the construction of a nearly 1,000-megawatt power plant, only 30 minutes away in this Connecticut town a similar fight is taking place. NTE Energy, a Florida-based company, has proposed to build a 550-megawatt, gas-fired electric generating plant in the borough of Dayville, near the town’s industrial park, where an 840-megawatt gas-fired energy center already operates.
Killingly, in the northeastern corner of Connecticut, shares borders with both Rhode Island and Massachusetts. A number of Killingly residents have joined together under the cause Not Another Power Plant (NAPP) to resist the development of the proposed fossil-fuel facility.
NAPP supporters are concerned that the new power plant would introduce water, air, noise and traffic pollutants to the area and threaten neighbors. At its closest point, the power plant would sit less than a mile from Killingly Intermediate School and the Goodyear Early Childhood Center. The town’s central and high schools are located a mile and a half from the site. Alexander Lake, a 215-acre body of water, is within a mile of the site and the Quinebaug River runs less than 300 feet away, within a watershed that extends into western Rhode Island.
NTE Energy was founded in 2009 as an energy-technology business focused on “renewable development.” The company is currently building two natural-gas power plants, in Kings Mountain, N.C., and Middletown, Ohio, and is planning to build and operate three more gas fired plants, besides the one in Connecticut.
The Killingly Energy Center will meet energy demand in New England and will fill “the void left by retiring coal and oil facilities,” according to NTE's David Groleau. Gas would be drawn from the Algonquin transmission pipeline, though construction of an additional line that crosses the Quinebaug River would be necessary. A million-gallon diesel tank would be utilized in the event that natural gas is unable to meet demand for power — “no more than 720 hours a year” and only in peak energy seasons, according to a May NTE technical report.
The Florida company would invest $500 million to develop the fossil-fuel plant in Killingly.
Though it began discussing the Killingly Energy Center in late 2015, NTE first introduced the project to the town on March 22. In May, residents living near the proposed site were invited by NTE and the town of Killingly to an information session. When local resident Carolyn Johnston first received the flier, she was distraught that she and her neighbors had been denied say in the project.
“I think we get to say something about this,” she recalled thinking. She later learned that the flier was distributed to only 300 local residents. “If you’re going to send an invitation to taxpayers to tell them this what they have to look forward to in town, it should have been sent to everybody,” Johnston said.
Lake Road resident Jason Anderson read the flier and initially “thought the power plant was going to be next to the other power plant,” he recalled. Anderson later found out that the plant would be built closer to the residential side of Lake Road — 600 feet from his home.
Fliers that were distributed to local residents described NTE as a company that “constructs, owns, and operates power plants,” though it was later revealed that the the energy company doesn’t yet operate any facilities.
“If we can’t trust them right from the get go,” Jason Anderson said, “how can we trust them to build something of this magnitude?”
One of his concerns is the possible congestion of traffic in the residential portion of Lake Road when water and gas lines are being installed. If they are built on the east side of the plant, vehicles would be redirected down Route 101 and through a very slim stretch of Lake Road, where corners can only accommodate one lane.
“How would that affect access to our houses?” Anderson asked.
NAPP supporters have frequently attended monthly town meetings of the Planning and Zoning Commission, Town Council and the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission to present their case. They have raised concerns about the clustering of plants; the decreased value of real estate; the inability of current water systems to shoulder the waste emitted from the plant, especially when running on diesel; the toxicity of burning diesel, and the concentration of pollution close to the plant due to the relatively low height of the stacks (150 feet).
“There were always going to be outraged citizens,” Johnston said, “but I really think what has made the difference is being a group. I think it is going to make a difference.”
Their petition has gathered more than 1,000 signatures.
Representatives from St. Augustine, Fla.-based NTE have also attended monthly Town Council meetings, and have encouraged the participation of residents during the application process. The town of Killingly has taken no official position on the development of the plant, but has helped facilitate an open dialogue between residents and NTE since the company first proposed construction.
Killingly town manager Sean Hendricks said the only concern is that the town remains as safe as possible and that “every resident who wants to share their opinion has their voice heard.”
In the 2010-2020 Plan for Conservation and Development for the town of Killingly, the Planning and Zoning Commission pledged to “increase protected open space and protected agricultural lands from the current 7.2% to at least 21% of the Town’s land area.”
The hope was to minimize the “fragmentation of natural areas” and retain “open space and forest connectivity as Killingly grows.” In the same report, the Planning and Zoning Commission mentioned an evaluation to expand Killingly’s industrial park, and were considering an area “northeast of Interstate 395’s Exit 92” — the proposed power plant has been plotted for an area of zoned residential land southwest of the highway.
At a Sept. 22 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, NTE chief operating officer Mark Mirabito said the development of the land in question was understood to be part of the town’s vision. One member of the commission noted that it was at one point the town’s vision to industrialize the area of forest, but when a consultant was hired to research the idea he “came up with discouraging news.”
Apparently, the portion of Lake Road where the power plant is proposed received a “very, very low grade” for potential development.
Like other major power plants in the area, the energy produced by the proposed facility would be sold to the ISO New England, making it nearly impossible to monitor the plant’s effect on local electricity prices.
“The way it works,” Mirabito said at the Sept. 22 meeting, “is that the facility here could help supply need elsewhere.”
A Planning and Zoning Commission member asked if the company considered developing “closer to where the actual power is required.” Mirabito answered that NTE “did look generally at a very high level but quickly narrowed in on Connecticut,” because of the accommodating infrastructure and “constraints” in other parts of the New England that “could make a project like this more challenging.”
A map of energy sources within a 30-mile radius of Killingly shows seven major operating plants: Millennium Power Plant in Charlton, Mass., gas fired, 360 megawatts; Ocean State Power in Harrisville, R.I., gas fired, 560 megawatts; Rhode Island State Energy Center in Johnston, R.I., gas fired, 583 megawatts; ANP Blackstone Energy in Blackstone, Mass., gas fired, 578 megawatts; NEA Bellingham Cogeneration Facility in Bellingham, Mass., gas fired, 386 megawatts; ANP Bellingham Energy in Bellingham, Mass., gas fired, 578 megawatts; and Milford Power LP in Milford, Mass., gas fired, 178 megawatts.
Childhood asthma rates in Windham County are two times higher than the national average — 18.9 percent, compared to 9.4 percent nationally — and more than 10 percent higher than other counties in Connecticut.
“Anyone who lives where particle pollution levels are high is at risk,” according to the American Lung Association. Particulate pollution is a mixture of tiny solid and liquid particulates ejected from smokestacks and tailpipes. Gases such as nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide are also released when fossil fuels are burned at high temperatures.
When breathed regularly at “low levels,” these gases “may cause permanent mental or physical problems,” as well as induce asthma development and other respiratory conditions, according to the American Lung Association.
The Goodyear Early Childhood Center is only three-quarters of a mile from where the plant would be built. Westview Health Care Center, a rehabilitation and nursing care facility, is 2.5 miles from the proposed site. NTE chose the site in question because of its distance from Killingly’s “higher density residential areas.” The company didn’t mention the proximity to schools or the elderly care facility in its technical report.
NTE’s Groleau reported that the air-quality analysis was completed following the guidelines of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Given “worst-case assumptions,” Groleau said the modeled impacts of the Killingly Energy Center were “well within all applicable ambient air quality standards” and ensured “protection of air quality and the most sensitive individuals.”
NTE took a regional view when considering the increase in pollution, according to Groleau.
“While it’s easy to imagine that these plants are collectively contributing to a decline in Killingly’s air quality,” he said, “the exact opposite is true.”
Most of Connecticut’s air pollution, he said, comes from upwind coal- and oil-burning power plants in the Midwest and South, and from mobile emissions from cars and trucks.
Interstate 395 runs 1.3 miles from where the NTE fossil-fuel power plant would be built, between the Westview Health Care Center and the town’s industrial park, compounding the level of pollution that is already present in the area from the existing power plant and 14 manufacturing facilities.
Killingly ranks within the 15 lowest-earning communities in Connecticut, with a per capita income of $25,124 and a population of 17,370. In 1994, the EPA put into effect a law stating that every state must identify lower-income communities that are vulnerable to development projects with “disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects,” so that all groups of people are guaranteed the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards.
As a distressed municipality, Killingly qualifies as an environmental justice community, therefore, major developers must submit an application to the Connecticut Siting Council before their plans are approved. After the NTE application was submitted to the council on Aug. 17, the town of Killingly was given a 65-day window to raise concerns about the project.
For a town such as Killingly, the prospect of new development inspires hope of new jobs and needed tax revenue. The Killingly Energy Center would be a substantial taxpayer, though the projected tax revenue hasn’t yet been released. In its application to the Connecticut Siting Council, NTE stated that an average number of 240 “direct onsite construction jobs per year” would be created during the “peak years of construction” — 2018 to 2019. More than 25 operating jobs would be created in the long term, after 2020, according to the Florida company.
The town of Killingly is expected to file its recommendations with the Connecticut Siting Council by Oct. 14. The council has scheduled a public meeting Oct. 20 at Killingly High School.