Elizabeth Township considers gas plant

An Illinois energy company is eyeing a patch of long-contaminated land in Elizabeth Township to build a new 550-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant, taking advantage of a serendipitous intersection of a power line, a gas pipeline and low natural gas prices.

Chicago-based Invenergy LLC is considering building the plant on a former industrial landfill on Henderson Road near Buena Vista, a 600-acre property where U.S. Steel and other companies decades ago dumped coal fly ash, coal tar and demolition waste.

“We’re really about the only kind of business that could be operated on that site due to its historical uses,” said Nick Cohen, Invenergy director of thermal development.

“It’s a vast area of Elizabeth Township that is currently providing no value,” he added. “By locating a business like ours, it will be able to provide a benefit for the community for what is really a significant amount of useless land.”

The township has scheduled a town hall meeting tonight to answer questions from residents about the project. The meeting is scheduled from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at Elizabeth Forward Middle School.

Andrew Kuzma, an Elizabeth Township commissioner and the host of the town hall, said he has not made up his mind about whether to throw his full support behind the project. The feedback he has received from residents is “50/​50,” meaning half of them have expressed concerns, he said.

PG graphic: Proposed site of natural gas-fired power plant
(Click image for larger version)

“It’s a huge opportunity for our tax revenue and jobs and economic development,” Mr. Kuzma said. “But we have to do our due diligence and listen to the taxpayers first, because they’re concerned about noise and construction ... and they’re worried about pollution.”

Pollution is no stranger to the brownfield property along the Youghiogheny River. In late 1970s, William Fiore opened the permitted landfill site. The site accepted coal tar, a byproduct of producing coke for U.S. Steel’s Clairton Works, as well as other industrial wastes.

The state Department of Environmental Protection terminated the site in 1983 after Fiore was found to have violated the permit. In 1986, he was sentenced to six to 12 years in prison for illegally disposing of wastes at the site and discharging them into the nearby river. Upon his death in 2003, ownership of the property was transferred to his son, David Fiore.

David Fiore — who started a renewable energy business called Buena Vista Energy LLC in 2005 — has recently been marketing the property as well-suited for renewable energy development. On his LinkedIn profile, he touts the property’s flat terrain, access to the electric grid and an 18-inch underground transmission pipeline operated by NiSource, Inc. Additionally, the property is bordered on three sides by the Youghiogheny River.

He said he reached out to a number of energy companies, and Invenergy expressed interest.

“They’re willing to go ahead and take a good hard look, which would definitely be a win-win,” David Fiore said Wednesday. “It would take a current brownfield site within the township and purpose it for the benefit of the whole township.”

Although U.S. Steel agreed to clean up the site in the early 2000s by moving the coal tar to the permitted dumping area and capping it, Mr. Kuzma said there are still areas fenced off by environmental authorities.

The plant is Invenergy’s second proposed power station in Pennsylvania. Invenergy is pushing forward on a 1,500-megawatt natural gas plant in Lackawanna County, which it plans to finish in 2017. The proposal also joins Nebraska-based energy company Tenaska’s plans for a 925-megawatt natural gas plant in Westmoreland County’s South Huntingdon, a project that could break ground in the next few months.

Invenergy has developed wind, solar and natural gas plants capable of generating more than 10,000 megawatts of utility-scale power, according to its website. It has primarily focused on renewable energy: Of its 79 power plant projects, 65 are wind farms and seven are solar plants, while seven burn natural gas.

Also on Wednesday, Invenergy announced the sale of 225 megawatts of wind power to Google from a wind farm in Texas.

Daniel Moore: dmoore@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2743 or on Twitter @PGdanielmoore.

Daniel Moore: dmoore@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2743 and Twitter @PGdanielmoore.

First Published January 27, 2016 12:44 PM

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