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New York Regulators Stop Gas-Fired Plant from Entering Service

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has denied Competitive Power Ventures Inc.’s (CPV) application to renew a key permit for a 680 MW natural gas-fired power plant that was nearly ready to enter service in Orange County.

In a letter sent to the company last week, DEC Regional Director Kelly Turturro said the Air State Facility (ASF) permit application was incomplete, noting that the company has failed to obtain a Title V Clean Air Act permit prior to operations as required by state law. The Valley Energy Center’s ASF expired on July 31. Without the ASF and Title V permits, Turturro said the nearly $1 billion facility “may not lawfully operate.”

To do so, she said, could result in a civil penalty of up to $18,000 for each state regulatory violation, plus an additional maximum penalty of $15,000 for each day violations continue.

She also noted that prior to any Title V permit being issued, the agency must receive a complete application and the public must be provided notice to comment on the draft. Furthermore, under the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must be allowed a 45-day review period. “These procedures, especially the opportunity for public input, are particularly important prior to the operation of the facility,” Turturro said.

DEC spokeswoman Erica Ringewald said “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.”

Title V permits reduce violations of air pollution laws and improve enforcement of those laws by, among other things, recording in one document all of the air pollution control requirements that apply to the source. According to DEC, this gives members of the public, regulators and the operator a clearer picture of what the facility is required to do to keep its air pollution under legal limits.

The denial comes after the DEC lost a bitter legal and regulatory fight to stop Millennium Pipeline Co. LLC’s 8 mile, 16-inch Valley Lateral. The lateral entered service just last month and has been making test gas available to the facility, spokeswoman Michelle Hook said.

The move also comes as Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo prepares to take on actress Cynthia Nixon in the state primary next month as he campaigns for a third term in office. Environmental organizations unsatisfied with Cuomo’s climate protection efforts, which include a ban on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, launched a campaign last year to pressure the governor to do more. Nixon, who trails Cuomo in the polls but has pushed him further to the left during the campaign, has called for a ban on natural gas pipelines and power plants, as well as a carbon tax and an emissions-free economy by 2050. 

Environmentalists had specifically pushed Cuomo to rescind state permits for the power plant under the state’s Clean Water Act authority.

The Catskill Mountainkeeper called DEC’s decision an "incredible victory." Executive Director Ramsay Adams lauded Cuomo and DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, saying they stood up for “the health of all New Yorkers and for protecting the environment of New York State. This is the kind of leadership we need as we march toward our renewable energy future.”

Delays bringing on the Valley Lateral have already cost CPV millions of dollars. Spokesman Tom Rumsey said the company remains “committed to operating within all applicable operating permit requirements” and added that it would work with the DEC on the latest issue.

The New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) said late last year that Valley Energy Center, along with two other natural gas-fired facilities under development in the state, would be sufficient replacements for the massive Indian Point nuclear power plant north of New York City in Westchester County that is slated for deactivation beginning in 2020. Valley Energy has completed bidding into the capacity market.

NYISO and the New York Power Authority also called on the plant to be on standby during a heatwave last month, but its services weren’t needed.

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