The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has approved key environmental permits for a 950 MW natural-gas fired power plant that for years Nebraska-based Tenaska has planned to build.

After a DEP open house and formal public hearing about the plant, which was announced in 2009, the agency recently approved the company's air emissions and water discharge permits. It plans to begin construction this year and have the facility operational by 2018.

The plant would be located on a 400-acre site in Westmoreland County's South Huntingdon Township, about 45 miles south of Pittsburgh. Residents living near the site, however, have expressed concerns about the safety of the facility, particularly its plans to discharge into the nearby Youghiogheny River more than 1 million gallons of water it would use to cool power generation equipment (see Daily GPI, Jan. 13). South Huntingdon has no zoning laws and county officials have said they have no authority to stop the project from moving forward.

The Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council and the Pittsburgh-based Group Against Smog and Pollution have appealed the DEP's permit approvals with the state's Environmental Hearing Board, which has not scheduled a hearing on the matter. The groups contend that the agency did not properly consider alternative power sources for the site, such as wind and solar, and said in their appeals that Tenaska's application did not provide adequate information about the plant's effects on the environment.

While Tenaska's facility is one of a dozen or so planned for Pennsylvania, only one, which is being constructed by Panda Power Funds LP, has officially broken ground in Bradford County (see Daily GPI, May 26, 2014). When Tenaska announced the project in 2009, it said construction could start as early as 2012. Both the DEP and Tenaska have not commented on the appeals, but a DEP spokesman said they do not prevent Tenaska from moving forward with the project.

The facility is expected to cost more than $500 million and create 25 permanent jobs once operational.