Wednesday, March 3, 2021

New Fossil Fuel Project Prompts Discussion of Concerns, Opportunities, and Win-Win Alternatives

This article was submitted by Middletown resident Jill Harris: 

The Middletown City Council, representatives from NRG, representatives from the Jonah Center, and local citizens came together on February 11th to consider and discuss NRG’s proposal for a fossil fuel power plant project on River Road and its impact on the community.  The discussion occurred in the context of the Middletown Council’s unanimous decision in 2020 to declare a climate change emergency and of the town’s option in February 2021 to terminate a tax agreement worth several million dollars that is favorable to the NRG project. 

Brian McCabe presented NRG’s proposal to replace two units built in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s with a new unit.  John Hall of the Jonah Center and Wesleyan Physics Professor Brian Stewart presented in opposition to the proposed plan.  Connecticut produces more power than it uses, exporting 26% of the power it generates.  Although the proposed gas powered turbine would be more efficient, it would be allowed to run 182 days a year instead of the few days a year that the units it would replace currently run.  The increased running time would result in the release of five times the amount of the current CO2 emissions and as much as 76 tons of Particulate Matter, factors which contribute to the climate crisis and negatively affect the local environment and the health of local residents.  

Mr. Hall and Professor Stewart spoke in favor of seeking alternative technological solutions such as a storage facility for green technologies such as wind and solar.  Mr. McCabe said that NRG is currently working on other types of storage facilities in other parts of the country and would be willing to work with the Jonah Center on this alternative.  He also said that the same local labor force could be employed to build a storage facility for green energy as would be employed for the current proposal of the fossil fuel burning turbine.  

Councilman Gene Nocera called the public comments “heartwarming” as approximately 45 citizens called in to voice their opinions.  According Councilman Philip Pessina, 14 of those calls favored the proposed plan for reasons of its benefit to the labor force, while approximately 30 people called in to object to the proposed plan for environmental reasons, both current and immediate damage to the local ecosystem and the health of local residents and its contribution to the existential crisis of climate change.  “The Climate Emergency [declaration] was not a paper exercise,” Councilman Vincent Loffredo noted, implying that the council is committed to acting in accordance with the urgent need to act to reduce greenhouse gasses.  Both Councilman Grady Faulkner and Councilman Ed McKeon said that they liked the alternative idea of a storage facility for green energy, and Councilman Pessina saw the potential for a “three-legged stool” that would bring NRG and labor, environmentalists, and the government into a cooperative project that could be a model for the transition away from fossil fuels.  “You can’t put a price on health,” Councilwoman Jeannette Blackwell added, “and we need to continue to discuss the impact on marginalized communities.”

The town is now waiting and watching to see if the Common Council will terminate the tax agreement and if meaningful discussions between the City, NRG, and the Jonah Center take place regarding an energy storage project.

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