Looking Like a Bad Investment
Written by Sue Cannon, Co-founder of Renovo Residents for a Healthy Environment.
When Renovo's prospective gas-fired power plant was first proposed to the community, an artist's rendering gave the impression that the plant would fold into the landscape as neatly as a plastic playground gym-set that's been designed for a bit of harmless exercise. We no longer have to rely on that bird's-eye view of the plant.
Now we have a powerful new image. Developed using the known dimensions of the plant's specific components, including its stacks, tanks, transmission towers, and condensers, this image shows what the plant would look like at street level, should it ever be built.
Examined up close, from the perspective of a resident standing in Renovo at the corner of 8th and Erie, the plant can be seen as a clear intrusion. Juxtaposed against the 262-foot stacks, passers-by appear diminished and vulnerable. The fence, offered up as a "buffer" between the plant's operations and the ongoing life of the community, provides no protection from the noise, lights, vibrations -- and toxins -- that the plant will emit 24 hours a day. Residents will have to live with a constant, oppressive presence, located not miles away but right across the street.
With the plant in place, the surrounding mountains that so many have come to love will be obscured by an ugly industrial landscape, an eyesore that will remain for the life of the plant, which could mean decades. Renovo will have lost its defining rural character.
And for what?
The plant is looking like a bad investment
Gas-fired power plants appear to have a shaky future in Pennsylvania. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) stated in a recent report that the "gas-fired gold rush looks to be over." According to their report, renewables have become increasingly competitive. Demand for methane-fed projects has decreased. Volatile gas prices have created an unstable market. And the recent increased attention to climate change has also had an effect. Given the real probability that fossil fuel plants will need to shut down by 2050, investors and developers are having second thoughts about funding projects that appear to have an uncertain future.
This hesitation about investing in fossil-fueled projects that could end up as "stranded assets" down the line is creating especially daunting hurdles for plants such as Renovo's that are still in the planning stages. The IEEFA report concludes that the plant proposed for Renovo is "unlikely" to be built.
The project has also been unable to gain traction
Plans have been in circulation since 2014, but the start-up date has had to be revised numerous times; at this point, no specific date has been set for breaking ground. Another difficulty arose last October when permits for two gas-fired power plants were denied in New York. The plan for Renovo was that its plant would export half of the electricity it produced to New York. These recent denials raise questions about whether the plant's output will find an adequate market.
More significantly, the project itself is now on hold due to a lawsuit appealing the plant's air permit. In August, as part of that appeal, the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board ruled that the DEP broke the law in granting a permit that set limits for two pollutants -- sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds -- too high. With part of its permit now invalidated as well as recent news that investors, including the major firm Marathon Capital, have suspended funding pending the results of the appeal, it's not clear how plans for the project will proceed. Nevertheless, the fight is not over.
Weighing the Future
So what, in the end, are the rewards for Renovo's resident standing at the corner of 8th and Erie and attempting to weigh the pros and cons of this project? It's perhaps become, with close attention to the realities, a more ominous prospect than they had thought. Even the promise of the 25-30 jobs the plant says it will offer seems suddenly to have paled. These plants are largely automated, and the permanent jobs will go to engineers from outside the community. Why should residents be asked to put up with the impacts of what seems to be a shaky project with an uncertain future when the rewards are few, or nonexistent?
A power plant that once appeared to be a life-line could very well turn out to be a dead end.
Look closely. And remember: You have a say in determining the future of Renovo. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved.