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Group Appeals Permit for Natural Gas-Fired Power Plant

An environmental group claims in an appeal that the state Department of Environmental Protection is trying to revive a defunct air pollution control permit that will allow the construction of a natural gas-fired power plant in Washington County.

The Clean Air Council filed a notice of appeal with the Environmental Hearing Board, claiming DEP was reinstating a 2017 permit issued to the facility, after a modified air quality plan approved in June 2021 was stopped at the developer’s request after it was challenged by the Clean Air Council.

Under the former permit, construction must begin by March 28, 2022, and according to DEP documents, the developer, Robinson Power, began pouring concrete at the site in late 2020.

The Beech Hollow plant is proposed 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 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 approved the modified plan in June. But then the company asked to terminate that plan and go back to the original permit.

“Under state and federal law, the old permit died when DEP replaced it with the new permit, and it cannot simply be brought back on an agency’s whim,” a Clean Air Council news release states.

“The point of DEP’s letter is to try to get rid of our appeal while still letting the company build the plant under a dead permit,” said Joseph Otis Minott, executive director and chief counsel of Clean Air Council. “Zombie permits have no place in the permitting system, and DEP knows it. DEP should be ashamed of its part in this chicanery.”

The Clean Air Council claims that Robinson Power now has no valid permit to build the plant, and must again start the permitting process again, using current air emission analyses. Under the original permit, the plant can emit about 2.9 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year, along with particulates and volatile organic compounds.

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