Youghiogheny River communities win! Invenergy gives up on AEC

After seven years of community opposition to building the gas-fired power plant as well as litigation by a team of environmental groups to challenge its permit’s weak pollution controls, Invenergy has abandoned its proposal to build the Allegheny Energy Center (“AEC”) along the Youghiogheny River and Great Allegheny Passage in Elizabeth Township, PA.  

West Newton residents watch a live-stream of the AEC trial in July, 2023.

Late Friday, Invenergy announced that it had given up its Allegheny County Health Department air quality permit because it “will not develop and construct the proposed Allegheny Energy Center.” The announcement came almost three months after it paused the multi-week trial in the legal appeal challenging AEC’s air permit brought by the Environmental Integrity Project, Clean Air Council, and PennFuture on behalf of CAC, PennFuture, and Mountain Watershed Association. The gas-fired power plant would have been one of the largest and most polluting in Pennsylvania, and would not have included any renewable energy despite the community’s wishes and Invenergy’s experience with renewables at other sites.

View of the Youghiogheny River near the town of Sutersville, where the power plant was proposed to be built.

Invenergy had been trying to build the AEC plant along the Youghiogheny River since at least 2016. As the power plant was proposed on the Westmoreland County/Allegheny County border, adjacent to the Environmental Justice neighborhoods of West Newton and Sutersville, it would affect a range of quiet, residential areas. The development has sparked fierce community backlash—being successfully ousted from its initial proposed location in the suburban Buena Vista.

In 2021, hundreds of commenters attended a public hearing to oppose the air pollution permit. Despite the public outcry, the Allegheny County Health Department issued the air permit. In November of that year, the groups appealed the AEC air pollution permit, with Environmental Integrity Project representing MWA. The now-terminated permit issued to AEC by the Allegheny County Health Department would have allowed the proposed 639-megawatt power plant to spew hundreds of tons of health-harming pollutants and millions of tons of climate pollutants annually

During the appeal process, MWA worked with the community group, EIP, and Clean Air Council to create a website dedicated to sharing information about the proposed power plant. MWA’s organizers also helped keep the community active and engaged through a lengthy appeal process that eventually led to a trial. After the environmental groups presented the testimony of expert witnesses and several fact witnesses, Invenergy asked for the trial to be paused.

But the trial was never resumed. Instead, Invenergy pulled its interests out of Elizabeth Township – in a great victory for our Youghiogheny River community.

“The community pushed back against the Allegheny Energy Center for seven long years,” said James Cato, Regional Organizer at Mountain Watershed Association. “Mountain Watershed Association is proud to have supported this fight through to the end. This is a huge win for residents of West Newton, Elizabeth Township, users of the GAP Trail, and the Youghiogheny River watershed as a whole.”

“Invenergy’s proposed power plant would have completely changed the character of the bottom Youghiogheny River corridor, negatively impacting treasured ecosystems as well as nearby environmental justice communities who have been working hard to rebuild their economies through recreation and tourism,” said Ashley Funk, Executive Director of Mountain Watershed Association. “With local communities leading the charge, we have shown that we can protect the places we cherish through the power of grassroots organizing.”

“My family, neighbors and friends were thrilled to learn that years of hard work paid off in a meaningful way,” said Cathy Anderson, Elizabeth Township resident. “Our voices were finally heard and legal facts were instrumental in leveling the playing field for our communities. This is a victory today and for the future of the region.”