Connecticut residents want monitoring of new New York power plant
KENT — Residents of northwestern Connecticut are looking to the state to further protect their air quality now that a power plant is being built just over the state line in Dover Plains, N.Y.
The 1,110-megawatt Cricket Valley Energy Center is expected to go online in 2020. It will be powered by natural gas.
About 100 residents filled Kent Town Hall last week to ask officials from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection about the project and requested more air quality monitoring in the area so they could determine baseline data before the plant starts generating power and as the emissions are released.
“This is a large, gas-powered facility under construction, not six miles from this hall,” said Michael Benjamin, chairman of the newly formed Western Connecticut Clean Air Action group that organized the forum.
The plant is expected to produce tons of pollutants annually, though all of these are within the federal limits.
DEEP officials said they understand concerns but aren’t able to add monitoring stations based on the high costs to add them and because the prelimary modeling don’t suggest a problem. These models, which were done as part of the permit requirements for New York and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, show the greatest impact for the project happening southwest of the plant in New York.
“Predictive modeling is showing this plant is only going to contribute a fraction of pollutants to the ambient air here,” said Jaimeson Sinclair, assistant director of air engineering and enforcement for DEEP.
When asked if the plant would negatively affect the 50-mile radius around the plant, Sinclair said it would definitely add pollutants but based on the modeling it wouldn’t negatively affect that area.
He suggested residents watch the reports that will be filed by the company recording their emissions to see if anything exceeds standards so the residents or the state can file a lawsuit against the company or New York. He said DEEP only had six engineers and six enforcement officers to oversee all of Connecticut’s air, but will help residents interpret the data.
Peter Babich, an air-monitoring supervisor, said the state wouldn’t add another monitoring station based on the data now, but said it’s a good opportunity for citizen science if residents wanted to create one closer to the plant in distance and elevation.
The closest DEEP monitoring station is 15 miles away on Mohawk Mountain in Cornwall.
If residents set up a monitoring station and it shows the air quality worsening, they still wouldn’t be able to file a lawsuit until those federal limits were exceeded and they could prove the plant was its source, Sinclair said.
Residents asked for more specific monitoring for the finer, more toxic pollutants.
Sinclair and Babich said those are already included in one of the groups, but aren’t part of the regulations on their own so they can’t enforce them.
DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee started the presentation with a few caveats, including Connecticut doesn’t have any jurisdiction over a New York project, which is in its own energy region.
“There is no tool in the toolkit,” he said.
The only way Connecticut could intercede is if the plant didn’t meet the federal emissions standards and prevented Connecituct from reaching the air standards.
He and Sinclair said they would change Connecticut’s policy though and start posting the public notices DEEP receives about projects happening in other states but affect Connecticut. People will be able to view them on the department’s website and sign up for alerts so they will know when new ones are posted.
One of the biggest complaints about the Cricket Valley project was that because it’s a New York project, Connecticut residents just miles from the plant didn’t know it was happening until it was already approved.
The bulk of the presentation, which was prepared from submitted questions, essentially defended the project, comparing it to a similar plant that came online in Oxford this spring and sharing the stringent requirements for this part of the country.
Sinclair said that Connecticut and New York are very similar in their approach to these plants and ideology. They have the same permitting process and among the most stringent requirments because the Northeast’s air quality is harmed by plants west of the region. Connecticut and New York are co-plaintiffs in several lawsuits advocating for clean air and restrictions on plants in other states.
He said these natural gas-powered plants were needed as they work towards more renewable energy because they take older, coal-burning plants off line. He said the renewable energy industry isn’t able to store excess solar or wind power to supplement the grid when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.
“The natural gas-fired plants fill that gap,” he said.
Representatives from Cricket Valley weren’t there but, in a statement, stressed the project was in compliance with state and federal regualtions.
“Cricket Valley Energy Center will operate using state-of-the-art emissions-reduction technology and will be monitored continuously by the NYSDEC for compliance with air quality permits,” Project Director Scott Curry said. “We look forward to being able to displace older, less-efficient, higher-emitting power plants and help improve air quality throughout the region.”