Yesterday,  8 of us met with 12 people to discuss SEPTA’s gas power plant project at the Midvale Bus Depot. We expressed our frustration, that our concerns have been ignored for 6 months. We referred to community efforts in Toronto with Metrolink and in North Carolina with Duke University in rejecting fracked gas for electricity generation. We shared that our demonstrated respect has not been reciprocated, that there’s been a lack of transparency.

Health

We spoke of our health concerns, about adding to the emissions of an already overburdened community. About the high rate of asthma there, especially in children. About our concerns with the ultra fine particulates never being addressed. Mondre Energy stated that they did the study they were commissioned to do, which was emissions modeling, not health impacts. Also, that there’s no way to address the health impacts since there’s no science about ultra fine particles and that this is as good as it gets from a regulatory perspective. State Street Advisors gave us a “lesson” on national air quality standards, that they’re operating well within the existing standards / laws. Mondre Energy stood behind the EPA’s endorsement of gas over coal emissions, and that the emissions from this plant are too small to be measured. That the EPA only regulates plants over 25MW, that a 9 MW plant of this size is too small to regulate. We pointed out that this is a loophole, that a smaller plant still has emissions affecting an already burdened community, and they seemed offended.

Alternatives Analysis

We asked about an alternatives analysis based on best practices but were told they’ve already done one and shared with us. But we think this was only to justify their decision, not to really layout their energy needs at Midvale and Wayne Junction and list alternatives. We presented them with our 5 page draft of an alternatives analysis.

Collaboration

We asked SEPTA to collaborate with us and were told that their intentions to build this project were published as early as 2012. SEPTA pulled out a list of times they’ve met with us, as if meeting with us meant collaboration when it’s mostly been us asking questions into a void.

Other gas power plants  

Although no proposals, if this (the Midvale power plant) goes well, SEPTA might consider gas power plants at the 69th street terminal, at their headquarters on Market Street in Center City Philadelphia, and at the Powelton yard. They gave other examples of gas power plants, at Doylestown Hospital, one in Berks County, of NJTransit’s plans to convert their entire train system to run on fracked gas. State Street Advisors “educated” us on the Clean Power Plan and that there is currently no non-fossil fuel source that can address SEPTA’s power requirements.

Why SEPTA?

They didn’t seem to understand why we’ve decided to take on this campaign. SEPTA’s Director of Legislative Affairs felt as though we were here to attack SEPTA. We’ve been asked this before, by the media as well as SEPTA and we reiterate: Because SEPTA is a public entity offering a service that we pay for with our fares and with ur taxes. We need to have a voice about our transit system.

Glimmer of hope

Unrelated to this project, we learned that SEPTA will soon announce a Request for Proposals to build a 10MW solar facility.

Bad financial decision

We repeated our understanding of the natural gas market; that once gas from the Marcellus Shale begins getting exported, prices will soon rise. That regulations on the fracking industry continue to tighten, that it’s impossible to believe industry touting cost savings over a 20 year life span of this project.

Here, we were given another lesson by State Street Advisors. On clean energy policy. That PTC, or production tax credits, are required for renewables to be feasible; that the price of RECs, or renewable energy credits, is too low in our state; that there’s plenty of gas in the Marcellus shale; that when we run out of that, there’s plenty in the Utica shale; that they therefore don’t see the price of renewables catching up to gas within the next 20 years. Trust me, said the State Street Advisor, and basically saying, it’s our word against yours. No mention of existing subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. 

We shared some of our research about gas prices rising, notably from Noresco newsletters. Note that Noresco is the company contracted by SEPTA to design and build this plant.

SEPTA thought the pricing of gas, and of electricity are correlated so they’re making a safe bet. We tried telling them that a building a gas plant is betting against getting climate policies right.

What about community concerns?

We reminded them that there are more than the 8 of us who have issues with increasing our long term dependence on fossil fuels.  The response was that, yes, they’ve met with the community. That’s all that they’re required to do. They pulled out a list of meetings and took credit for the meeting at Steel Elementary last month. The SEPTA consultant seems to have forgotten that it was the community that invited both SEPTA and 350 Philly to this meeting, to explain the project; and that SEPTA chose to lay low and have 350 Philly do the community education as well as raise concerns.

Conclusion

Though they gave us the time, and the opportunity to express our concerns, we still hold that there’s been a lack of transparency about this project.  That their logic about resiliency (running trains during an extended power outage) doesn’t make sense without proffering list of occasions when they’ve lost power. That there’s misrepresentation whether this plant is for backup power (used occasionally) or for baseload (running 24 x 7). We vented our concerns: that though courteous, there’s been a lack of transparency about this project. There’s no real good reason for this plant, other than because they can.

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