New York Denies Air Permit for New Gas-Fired Power Plant

A natural gas-fired power plant in New York state that planned to ramp up to full operations this month has been denied an air quality permit from state officials. Competitive Power Ventures’ (CPV’s) Valley Energy Center in Wawayanda, located in Orange County north of New York City, is in the final testing and commissioning phase, which was expected to be completed by mid-August.

The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on August 1 issued a letter to CPV, denying the plant’s request for renewal of its air state facility permit. Erica Ringewald, a DEC spokeswoman, said the plant’s current permit does not meet regulatory requirements.

Ringewald told WAMC Northeast Public Radio in Albany, New York, “Specifically, revisions of the applicable regulations now require a Clean Air Act Title V permit to operate this type of facility. And this facility has not submitted an application for nor has [it] been granted this type of permit. Facilities of this size and nature must be subject to the most rigorous air pollution controls to ensure the public is protected. And Title V permits provide for greater transparency and community input prior to authorization.”

A Title V Clean Air Act permit requires a more-comprehensive application with more time for public input, including at least 45 days for review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In a statement, CPV spokesman Tom Rumsey said the company has “worked collaboratively with regulators at every level of government” and that the CPV Valley plant will “reduce emissions, lower rates and help New York state meet its goals for clean energy.”

“We remain committed to operating within all applicable operating permit requirements and look forward to working with the DEC to address any concerns they may have,” Rumsey said.

In an August 2 letter to CPV, DEC Regional Director Kelly Turturro said the company would be subject to an initial fine of up to $18,000 and a daily penalty of up to $15,000 if it operated without the permit.

The company had hoped to have the 680-MW plant in full operation earlier this year, but the project has been hindered by legal challenges and construction delays, including the completion and permitting of Millennium Pipeline Co.’s 16-inch, 7.8-mile Valley Lateral line bringing feedstock gas to the plant from Pennsylvania.

The plant’s backup fuel—diesel—was commissioned in May. CPV had tested the plant in February over Presidents’ Day weekend using diesel. Nearby residents complained of excessive noise and emissions from the plant, and those complaints led CPV to pay Wawayanda $90,000 for a consultant to study the issue.

Rumsey, CPV’s vice president of external affairs, at the time told Albany’s Times Herald-Record newspaper that the company should not have tested the plant on a holiday weekend, that it should have paid more attention to weather conditions at the time, and that the plant idled on a low load, which made its emissions worse. Rumsey told the newspaper: “If we had that to do over again, we would’ve done it differently.”

CPV on its website says the plant was put on standby by the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), which manages the state’s power grid, during a recent heat wave to help meet power demand. The plant was not called into service.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in July gave Millennium the go-ahead to operate the gas pipeline to the plant, more than three years after Millennium submitted an application to FERC, and CPV says final testing and commissioning of the gas and steam turbines at the plant is underway.

The power plant has met opposition on a number of fronts. The activist group Protect Orange County has held weekly protests outside the plant for years. Wawayanda officials cited the plant for noise violations in March.

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers has sought to revoke the plant’s air permit since April, after Joseph Percoco—a former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo who also served as the governor’s campaign manager—was convicted on bribery charges involving state business with two companies, including the Valley Energy Center. Lawmakers have said that conviction calls into question previous operating permits received by the plant.

Rumsey, the CPV spokesman, in April said the permits “were never alleged to have been obtained in an improper way, nor was any evidence provided suggesting they were. The validity of our project permits has been upheld by state and federal regulators and in state court, and claims to the contrary are without merit.”

Terrence Murphy, a Republican state senator from Westchester County, this week called for a meeting of the Indian Point Task Force to discuss what denial of the permit to the CPV project means to the region. The Valley Energy Center was expected to replace some of the power generation that would be lost by the closure of the 2,069-MW Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester County, scheduled for 2021. The CPV plant also was expected to replace power from retired coal-fired generation in the region.

“We just lost close to half of what we were told would replace Indian Point, which will be a disaster for energy consumers,” Murphy said.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).