The threat of a gas-fired “Allegheny Energy Center” (AEC) has loomed over our region since 2016, when Invenergy proposed the power plant along the Youghiogheny River in Buena Vista. Although the Elizabeth Township Zoning Hearing Board denied the application then, Invenergy came back by traveling down the Yough and proposing the same facility on the Allegheny/Westmoreland County border. Since then the power plant has pressed onwards despite fierce public opposition. As the situation changed, so too have oppositional strategies from the community.
Recently, in 2021, the Allegheny County Health Department granted the air permit after dozens of hours of testimony from residents decrying its issuance. Local and national environmental groups—Clean Air Council, PennFuture, and the Environmental Integrity Project on behalf of Mountain Watershed Association—filed an appeal working closely with the community. Many community members who had opposed the plant over the years officially organized themselves to become Yough Communities CARE (“YCC”).
Since the appeal was filed, there hasn’t been much action on Invenergy’s AEC. As attorneys work with the county and representatives on the air permit appeal, none of the other building or environmental permits have been proposed, and no ground has been broken for construction. Still, community members and local groups remain steadfast in making sure this 639-megawatt plant does not disrupt their health, nor their cherished woodlands and tourism-heavy economy. Bikers, walkers, and runners all frequently stop by West Newton, as the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) Trail runs through town.
During this relative lull, it was a surprise when Invenergy announced a $3-billion investment from Blackstone for renewable energy in 2022. Elizabeth Township and West Newton’s experience with Invenergy had been with a company intent on building a gas-fired power plant—an investment in fossil fuels, not renewables. It was also a company which, despite branding itself as eco-friendly, had not respected residents’ pleas for a solar farm to replace the proposed plant or to scrap the gas-fired plant entirely in 2021. With the appeal going on, groups were limited in the actions they could take, and found the investment preposterous.
Still, the newly-formed YCC worked with MWA, Clean Air Council, and EIP to put together a website with information about the proposed Invenergy facility for interested parties. The website included a letter asking Blackstone to consider divesting, since Invenergy was instigating a project much dirtier and more extractive than the green energy Blackstone sought to support—especially because residents had suggested those same renewable alternatives many times. Read the letter here, and please consider signing on. Blackstone may be able to urge Invenergy to change the course of the project toward renewable energy.