Clear River Energy Center Draft Air Permit Approved; Invenergy Struggles with Pollution at Penn. Power Plant

The three emissions towers at the Lackawanna Energy Center in Jessup, Penn., are within site of three popular softball fields. (Tom Fiorelli photos)

The three emissions towers at the Lackawanna Energy Center in Jessup, Penn., are within site of three popular softball fields. (Tom Fiorelli photos)

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

The fossil-fuel power plant proposed for the woods of Burrillville, R.I., recently received a boost with pre-approval of a key air-pollution permit by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM). But the developer, Invenergy Thermal Development LLC, has had air-pollution problems at a natural-gas power plant it opened last year in Pennsylvania.

The Lackawanna Energy Center in Jessup, Penn., has violated air-pollution regulations since it began operations last spring and Invenergy hasn’t been forthcoming with the details.

Since May 2018 there have been at least six unreported releases of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in excess of state standards. NOx is linked to several health and environmental problems, such as respiratory illnesses.

Invenergy didn’t initially report the air-pollution releases to state officials. As reported by The Scranton Times Tribune, residents and Jessup council members were critical of Invenergy’s lack of communication on excessive air pollution, including an episode on Aug. 29, 2018, when the loss of power at the energy facility caused a NOx release more than thee times the legal limit for an hour. Invenergy blamed the incident on an electrical malfunction.

In an Aug. 31 letter to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Invenergy revealed the unreported “temporary exceedance episodes” and blamed the failure to report the incidents on a vendor and software problems.

Invenergy’s letter only referenced unreported illegal emission releases. Reported emission releases can only be viewed at the Pennsylvania DEP office in Wilkes-Barre.

Invenergy didn’t respond to requests for comment on the Lackawanna Energy Center’s air-pollution incidents. The 1,500-megawatt facility is the biggest natural-gas plant in Pennsylvania and one of the largest in the nation.

Invenergy promised that the Lackawanna Energy Center would be behind a tree line and designed to minimize visibility.

Invenergy promised that the Lackawanna Energy Center would be behind a tree line and designed to minimize visibility.

The Jessup opposition group, Citizens for a Healthy Jessup, have so far documented 11 incidents of excessive air pollution, including a gas-line valve break last December that released 9 million cubic feet of natural gas.

“They won’t tell you what is being emitted,” said Ron Kordish, an artist who works with glass and a member of Citizens for a Healthy Jessup.

Kordish is one of 32 residents who joined a lengthy, divisive, and ultimately failed legal effort to stop the Lackawanna Energy Center.

“This plant has torn the town apart,” he said.

Both Kordish and fellow resident Rella Scassellatti, also a Citizens for a Healthy Jessup member, said Invenergy promised in a highly visible campaign that residents wouldn’t see, hear, or smell the fossil-fuel power plant, including a pledge that the facility would be hidden by vegetation.

“It’s massive; you can see it from all over,” Scassellatti said.

Scassellatti lives less than a mile from the power plant and says there have been several incidents of noisy blowdowns, in addition to the continuous rumbling from the facility that she hears outside her home.

A March 2018 incident at the power plant released a yellow cloud, Scassellatti said, and created a sickly sweet smell that burned her lungs. She soon bought an air filter for her home and no longer opens her windows.

Invenergy provides updates on the power plant during monthly council meetings, but Scassellatti criticized the Chicago-based energy company for not mentioning the emission incidents at the meetings until a newspaper reported on the matter.

She noted that Invenergy admitted briefly at a council meeting that the power plant was subsiding, perhaps because of old coal mines beneath the facility. The company hasn’t commented further about the problem.

“They have not been forthcoming with information,” Scassellatti said of Invenergy.

The $1 billion facility runs three 500-megawatt natural-gas/diesel turbines. Invenergy’s proposed Clear River Energy Center (CREC) also costs an estimated $1 billion and will operate two of the General Electric turbines.

The town of Burrillville and other opponents of the facility have been documenting the air pollution and other problems at the Jessup facility. Through a spokeswoman, Burrilville officials said consultants are reviewing the air-pollution application before DEM.

“The town is aware of problems at Lackawanna, and to the extent those are relevant to Invenergy’s CREC permit, we will bring those to the attention of DEM,” Dyana Koelsch said.

Before the project is approved, Invenergy’s air-pollution permit in Rhode Island must first receive scrutiny from the public. Comments can be made via e-mail to dem.invenergyairpermit@dem.ri.gov until July 15. The draft permit and a CREC fact sheet are on DEM’s website.

A public hearing will also be held, but a date, time, and location haven’t been announced by DEM.

The draft emissions regulations for the Clear River Energy Center allow for NOx emissions of 2.0 parts per million per hour per smokestack when burning natural gas. It allows 5.0 parts per million when burning diesel fuel oil. Total NOx emissions may not exceed 274 tons per year.

The draft permit also sets limits for ammonia, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, non-methane hydrocarbons and for the opacity of emissions. Emissions must also comply with federal standards for greenhouse gas emissions and acid rain standards.

Higher thresholds for each pollutant are permitted during startup of the gas/diesel turbines.

Invenergy must self-monitor and record emissions data. Emissions that exceed limits must be reported quarterly.

The nearly 1,000-megawatt project is nearing a final vote by the state Energy Facility Siting Board. The three-member board will discuss the application during public meetings scheduled for June 19, 20, 21, and 25. All of these sessions except for June 21 start at 10 a.m. The June 21 meeting starts at 1 p.m. The meetings are open to the public and attorneys will be present but only the EFSB members and their staff will speak.