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Look close at Cricket Valley Energy

“Think globally, act locally.”

 

On Sept. 26, Connecticut DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee brought two other DEEP officials to Kent, Conn., to address concerns about the Cricket Valley Energy Center (CVEC) natural gas plant in neighboring Dover, N.Y. Much was learned about DEEP’s process. They wanted us to know how thorough they are so we could relax; we wanted them to know that we believed them, so please step up. But we rather talked past each other. That’s why past local gas plant applications, subject to stringent Connecticut review models, matter. 

In 1999, the Connecticut Siting Council required Sempra Energy, doing business as New Milford Energy (Sempra/NME), for a 500 MW gas plant to conduct detailed air modeling using data from Bradley Airport as well as a stringent modeling protocol from Colorado (Docket # 163). CVEC conducted air dispersion and “wind profiles” but not actual modeling; nor did DEEP ask them to for this area’s microclimates. Using data from the Poughkeepsie airport 17 miles southwest of the site and the National Climate Data Center far north in Albany, they found — no surprise — that near surface winds are channeled north-to-south along that N.Y. valley, and frontal systems generally move east across the continent and north along the Atlantic coast. The strongest winds approach from the northwest, flowing south and east into Connecticut. Buried in the appendices they note the major heat plume will be over Litchfield County.

DEEP’s nearest ambient air monitoring stations are 18 miles northeast in Cornwall on Mohawk Mountain and 26 miles southeast in Thomaston. Both measure for CO, CO2, NOx, NO2, and PM2.5. DEEP’s state-of-the-art equipment is almost irrelevant at such distances. We need data for microclimate impact areas and immediate baseline monitoring throughout the steep Housatonic Valley, as well as permanent installations that measure real-time peak exposures, not the 5-year averaged data sets called for by EPA. Averaged emissions are a way to make salient peak exposures — those that get in your lungs — disappear: typical increments are at 1-, 3-, 8- and 24-hours; and in 1-, 3-, and 5-year categories.  

The 1999 Siting Council’s final Sempra/NME ruling said it was environmentally incompatible with the site. “…Based on the record in this proceeding we find that the cumulative effects associated with the construction, operation, and maintenance of the electric generating facility…. including effects on the natural environment; ecological integrity and balance; public welfare; scenic and recreational values; forests and parks; air and water; and wildlife are significant, in conflict with the policies of the state concerning such effects, and are sufficient reason to deny the proposed project.” Now consider: CVEC is over twice that size, located mere miles west with prevailing wind patterns in our direction.  

CVEC will use fracked gas with the inescapable methane release inherent to gas extraction, transmission and operation. Methane is a 25-to-30 times more potent heat-trapping gas than CO2, which gets all the attention. Methane dissipates faster in the atmosphere than CO2 but is more damaging in the long term. Latest thinking: gas generation is no “bridge” fuel after all, but rather a net loss — better off with oil until we go 100 percent renewable. 

The U.S. EPA and NYDEC classify CVEC as a new major source of air emissions under the Prevention of Significant Deterioration and Nonattainment New Source Review programs. So it’s not a “clean” plant at all. Dover and Litchfield County are already “non-attainment” areas, meaning we already exceed federal air pollution standards. (Who knew?) To gain approval, CVEC had to purchase “emissions offsets” from other polluters going offline at 115 percent of planned capacity for nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). Problem: their credits are from far away and while it may clean up ambient air in the aggregate, due to proximity, CVEC will likely worsen air quality here. Again, the Siting Council acknowledged as much in the 1999 Sempra/NME denial: “…We support this potential change for improvement, but we cannot overlook local ambient air quality to obtain this goal.” 

CVEC will supply electricity to New York and be sold on the wholesale market with no added benefit here. CVEC will tie into the north-south Iroquois gas pipeline from Canada but also to new in-process west-east spurs that will link directly into the Marcellus shale fracking fields throughout Pennsylvania and beyond. One estimate holds that to power a 1,110 MW plant per year, 500 new U.S. fracking wells will have to be drilled. So CVEC’s very existence orders up new fracking — with more methane release — not just tapping existing wells up north. 

New York outlawed fracking and Gov. Andrew Cuomo sued fossil-fuel polluters dumping air contaminants into that state. Yet they place a mega-polluter on the Connecticut border. The N.Y. DEC recently denied a renewal permit to a natural gas plant near Middletown after air quality questions surfaced. Joseph Percoco, a top Cuomo aide, was convicted of three felonies in a quid pro quo bribery case between Percoco and Competitive Power Ventures’ executive Peter Braith Kelly to facilitate that project’s approval. Evidence was heard citing inadequate greenhouse gas emissions analysis and potential health impacts. Should Connecticut’s attorney general investigate what, if any, similarities exist in CVEC’s parallel approval process? Reexamine CVEC’s permit? 

DEEP initially refused a closer focus on air monitoring but it’s just Round One. When Litchfield County’s eco-warriors suit up as one clan, we’re effective. Our requests are reasonable. Anything less is stewardship dereliction, for without monitoring we won’t find what we aren’t looking for. Air remains the first requirement of life without which we’d live only minutes. At the moment, we can still breathe easy, but soon? Maybe not so much. Stay tuned.   

 

B. Blake Levitt is a former New York Times contributor, author and communications director at The Berkshire-Litchfield Environmental Council. She writes about how technology affects biology. CVEC’s DEIS is at: www.townofdoverny.us/CricketValleyEnergyDEIS0511.cfm.