Power plants approved in Robinson, Washington County
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
By Andrea Iglar
Two side-by-side power plants, fueled by natural gas and waste coal, gained approval Monday night in Robinson, Washington County.
Supervisors hinged approval of the Beech Hollow Energy Project on 55 conditions, including the developer paying thousands of dollars in annual fees to the township, following guidelines for fly ash placement and monitoring well water and air quality.
Developers Robinson Power Co. and Champion Processing Inc. have 10 business days to agree to the provisions or township officials will reverse their vote.
The $538 million dual-plant project is expected to generate a total of 300 gross megawatts of electricity on 37 acres bounded by routes 22 and 980 and Candor and Beech Hollow roads, near the Allegheny County border.
It's an interesting location. "Tain't" in Allegheny County, but it's close. Inquiring minds do wonder how the natural gas and the waste coal are going to get to these two new plants.
This Google Map image shows the perimeter of the two power plants in yellow and the Montour Trail in green. Maybe they're going to use cargo bikes to haul the waste coal in?
The red circle on the map is the location of the Frac-Pure water remediation facility. This plant takes poisonous Marcellus Shale fracking fluids and provides a "cradle-to-grave" (their phrase, not mine) solution, rendering the nasty stuff into clean water and profitable products.
Frac water treatment, a natural gas power plant, a waste coal powerplant. Is this the economic development that anybody expected along the Montour Trail?
The unanswered question has to do with the 55 stipulations the township has advanced. If that's an attempt to make the project onerous to the developers, kudos and accolades to the township.
Where does the waste coal come from?
According to Energy Justice, the Robinson Power Company had planned to fuel the plant by burning the 37 million ton pile of waste-coal (the Champion Processing Inc. refuse pile) beside the proposed plant.
According to DPSInfo: Many years of mining in Pennsylvania created large areas of waste coal, called gob piles. This is the Beech Hollow gob pile, just outside of McDonald, as seen from the western side (photo taken winter 2008):
Pennsylvania gob contains far more mercury than any other types of coal or waste coal in the nation. Gob is also higher in mercury, chromium, arsenic and lead. Most of that will be captured in the ash, which -- at other waste coal burners -- is dumped locally, in communities near the power plant. Ash dumps aren't required to have basic protection like landfill liners. The waste coal industry has documented that toxic metals like lead and cadmium leach out of ash, so the groundwater is still at risk.
If they build two new power plants - a natural gas plant and a waste coal plant - there's going to be smokestacks and pollution. Let's take a look - just as a thought exercise - at what's downwind of the approved location.
You can tell the direction of the prevailing winds by looking at the airport runways (shown in yellow). If you draw a line (azimuth 120 degrees magnetic) from the power plant location, you get a downwind footprint shown by the purple line on the map.
Some of the effluent will climb high and drift far away; the heavier, more toxic particles will fall to the ground 10 to 15 miles from the plant. That'll be Bethel Park, South Park, Library, and McDonald.
History of Beech Hollow Energy Projects
Beech Hollow 1.0:
From SourceWatch: Robinson Power Company has proposed a 250 megawatt (MW) coal plant, which would utilize circulating fluidized bed technology and burn waste coal. This is a revision of a 1984 proposal for a waste-coal plant. According to Residents Against the Power Plant, the Beech Hollow Energy project will burn refuse from a “square-mile dump” that is one of the largest coal-refuse piles east of the Mississippi, and from other refuse piles throughout the area.
The U.S. Forest Service submitted comments to federal and state environmental regulators in March 2005, arguing that the plant would adversely affect wilderness areas in West Virginia. The proposal was accepted by Robinson Township officials on Sept. 11, 2006; planning commission chairman Neal Matchett resigned in protest of the decision.
Robinson Power had until Oct. 1, 2006, to begin construction in order to prevent the air permit from lapsing. No significant construction has occurred on this project as of late 2007. Several permits have been challenged by local residents, keeping the project at bay.
On January 20, 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection invalidated the plant's air quality permit, because Robinson Power had allowed construction to lapse for more than 18 months.
Beech Hollow 2.0:
Here's an artist's image of what the waste coal plant might look like: