Updates on the Invenergy Appeal Hearing

More than seven years have passed since Invenergy’s “Allegheny Energy Center” (AEC) was first proposed to the community. In 2021, the Allegheny County Health Department granted the AEC an air permit to build the natural gas power plant after dozens of hours of testimony from residents decrying its issuance. That decision was appealed quickly by environmental groups working closely with the community — Clean Air Council, PennFuture, and the Environmental Integrity Project on behalf of Mountain Watershed Association (MWA), Clean Air Council, and PennFuture. Finally, the long-awaited appeal trial began on Monday, July 24, 2023.

Over the years, the community has remained steadfast in their dedication to protecting the air, water, and land near their homes by opposing this power plant, which would sit along the GAP Trail and Youghiogheny River. On the first day of the appeal, 9:30AM on a Monday, over 70 community members tuned in to the hearing online, and more than 40 joined an in-person viewing organized by MWA and Yough Community CARES, a local group formed in opposition to the power plant. The Hearing Officer for the ACHD commented that it was unusual to have such a strong community showing at a hearing. 

There are several reasons why the communities around Sutersville, West Newton, and Elizabeth township have rallied year after year against Invenergy’s AEC. A mere six miles away from the AEC, a similarly-sized gas-fired power plant already exists in the Tenaska Westmoreland Generating Station. Recently, PennEnvironment released a report called the “Dirty Dozen,” which listed the twelve worst air polluters in Pennsylvania. Tenaska made the list, as did Invenergy’s own Lackawanna Energy Center (“LEC”) in Lackawanna County. Five of the twelve worst air emitters in the state are modern gas-fired power plants.

Emissions from the close-by Tenaska Westmoreland Generating Station

During the appeal, Invenergy’s attorneys have made the argument that gas-fired plants are necessary for cloudy days when the wind isn’t blowing, despite the company’s oft-mentioned “commitment to renewables.” However, the immediate area already hosts the Tenaska plant. Residents know what to expect. For example, MWA has received photos from concerned community members of the Tenaska plant’s pollution plume lighting up the evening sky up to about eight miles away. This region already has a higher air toxins cancer risk than 95% of the nation. The Invenergy proposal would worsen this issue, emitting VOCs such as benzene and formaldehyde which have been linked to increased cancer rates. 

Source: EPA AirToxScreen 2019. Figures shared by the Environmental Health Project.

During the hearing proceedings so far, the attorneys representing community members have pointed out a number of deficiencies with the permit as approved by the ACHD. For one, the permit allows for as many as 365 start-ups and shutdowns—which are usually events with much higher air pollution—per year. This provision would allow Invenergy to perform these activities every single day of the year, without effective monitoring to determine emissions and without stringent limits on all pollutants that may spike during such events. There is also an ACHD rule stating that the Health Department can deny a permit to a company that has shown an inability or unwillingness to comply with air pollution control laws in Pennsylvania, which the groups think should have stopped Invenergy from getting this permit. However, despite numerous violations at the Lackawanna Energy Center, a similar plant in the Invenergy “family,” AEC was given a construction permit anyway, and the company’s lawyers now claim that “Invenergy” is not actually a “related” party to AEC. 

We believe that this air permit is deeply flawed. The community has shown, time and time again, that they have no interest in this facility moving into their neighborhood. How do they know they don’t want a medium-sized gas-fired power plant? Because they already have one a few miles away, and it happened to make the shortlist of the worst air polluters in the state. An overburdened region should not be saddled with yet another major source of air pollution.

For the moment, Invenergy and the ACHD have requested a 30-day stay on proceedings.

To get involved, check out Yough Community CARES’ website. In partnership with MWA, Clean Air Council and the Environmental Integrity Project, they have started a divestment campaign which you can sign on to. Read more about the Invenergy plant on MWA’s page, and if you have any other questions or would like to get involved, please contact james@mtwatershed.com