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Air Quality Plan Being Considered for Proposed Washington County Power Plant

Public comments are being received on a modified air quality plan for a proposed combined-cycle, natural gas power plant in Washington County, as it continues to move forward after years of discussion.

The plans by Robinson Power call for the Beech Hollow plant to be built on a 37-acre site in Robinson Township, adjacent to the Champion coal waste refuse site owned by Ray Bologna, the principal of Robinson Power. When the power plant was initially proposed in the early 2000s, the plan was to burn waste coal from the refuse site.

However, after the state Department of Environmental Protection approved the air-quality plan, the company never began construction of the plant and the permit lapsed. The project then went through several design changes.

In 2017, the DEP approved an air-quality plan for a 1,000-megawatt, gas-fired, combined-cycle power plant at the same location. The combined cycle plant will use readily available natural gas from the Appalachian shale basin to power turbines that will generate energy. In addition, the waste heat from the gas turbines will be used to power an auxiliary boiler that will provide steam for electric generation, creating more efficiency in producing energy.

Robinson Power in 2019 asked for a modification of the plan for a 1,065 MW plant with an increase in turbine capacity and the addition of other equipment, and DEP issued a notice of proposed approval for the air quality plan on May 30, which began a 30-day comment period. A public hearing may be held if DEP determines it is warranted.

New sources of air pollution in Pennsylvania require an air quality plan that details the sources of air pollution and cleaning devices and sets emission limits and monitoring requirements. The Beech Hollow plant is considered by the EPA to be a major source of pollution. The proposed air-quality plan allows it to emit a maximum of 3.84 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents into the atmosphere each year, which is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. That is equivalent to the emissions of about 830,000 cars being driven for a year, according to the EPA.

The plant also must receive DEP approval of its erosion and sediment control plan for construction, and the Washington County Conservation District also must issue approvals, said DEP spokeswoman Lauren Fraley.

Bologna did not return a call seeking information about construction plans, and a representative of Burns & McDonnell, the construction developer for Robinson Power, also did not respond to an email or phone call.

Robinson Township manager Crystal Brown said that the township has approved all local permits needed for the project. The proposed plant is located within an industrial zone, so it was a permitted use and required only a simple application. A conditional use permit was needed for overhead electric transmission lines and towers. The last permit issued was a land development permit, which raised questions about conflict of interest that was resolved.

Two of the three supervisors at the time had conflicts of interest and were required to abstain from voting, making a majority impossible. Then-chairman Rodger Kendall had an easement agreement with Robinson for a pipeline across his property and supervisor David Foley’s relatives also had pipeline easements. At a subsequent meeting, both men signed memos about the conflict, and under the state Ethics Act, the supervisor with the lesser conflict, in this case, Foley was permitted to vote. Both men have since left the board of supervisors.

Conflicts of interest among local officials are not uncommon in areas where there are extensive gas leasing and drilling activity and officeholders must be careful to declare any potential conflicts on projects that come before them where they may have a financial interest.

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