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April 5, 2013

Pros, cons offered for gas-fueled electric plant

NEW CASTLE — Pros and cons for a proposed gas-powered electrical plant were nearly balanced at Wednesday’s public hearing.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection accepted testimony and fielded questions for the air quality permitting for the proposed Hickory Run Energy project.

Six spoke for the project and five were opposed. More than 50 people attended the North Beaver Township gathering.

The electricity plant, expected to generate 900 megawatts of power, is to be built off Route 551 in the township and would be powered from a Tennessee gas pipeline about a mile away.

LS Power of St. Louis, Hickory Run Energy’s parent company, plans to invest $75 million in the operation, which will occupy 60 acres of a 450-acre site. It is expected to begin generating in 2016 or 2017.

The venture would create about 500 construction jobs and about 25 permanent full-time jobs.

Plans call for reusing 5 million gallons per day of New Castle’s wastewater treatment plant effluent water in its cooling process, then draining it back into the Mahoning River.

Lawrence County Commissioner Steve Craig, a proponent of the project, commented, “It will use natural gas, the cleanest burning fuel available.”

Hickory Run did air dispersion modeling that took into account local terrain and weather to determine the best process, he noted. The plant will generate construction jobs, full-time employment and taxes, and will support in-state industry, he said.

“I think this is a good project. We need to generate electricity from the burning of natural gas, and that’s the best there is right now,” Craig said.

Opponents asked the DEP to extend its public review period. Written public testimony will be accepted by the DEP until April 15. Responses would be issued within 30 days after that.

“We’ll take all of this back and decide,” DEP spokesman Gary Clark said Thursday. “If there is a reason to extend the period, that will be discussed. We have a lot of questions to answer that people brought up.”

Several opposed said they don’t want the plant near their homes and expressed environmental concerns for their children. Others related their fears about possible dangers of Marcellus Shale drilling and fracking.

Russ Forsythe, an engineer retired from the West Pittsburg power plant, commented that renewable resources such as wind to generate electricity is not practical. The West Pittsburg plant would require more than 600 windmill generators to come up with the same output it has now, if the wind currents are acceptable, he said.

Linda Nitch, Lawrence County Economic Development Corp. executive director, noted the use of sanitation plant water will be the first time this process has occurred in the state.

“It will be cleaner when discharged than when it was received from the plant,” she said. “It’s a positive to the environment.”

She added the company has endeavored to buy turbines made by Siemens to ensure the facility will use products made in the USA.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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