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Scenic Hudson applauds permit denial for Danskammer power plant

 People protesting the Danskammer Energy Project in 2018.
Allison Dunne
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People protesting the Danskammer Energy Project in 2018.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has denied a permit for the Danskammer Energy Center in Orange County. The company was seeking authorization to build a new natural gas-fired power generation facility in the Town of Newburgh.

Danskammer said it would provide more than 500 megawatts of generating capacity and invest $400 million in the region. But the project has faced opposition from environmentalists. Danskammer currently operates as a peaker plant in Newburgh.

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said the proposal is not in compliance with the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act and would interfere with the state’s greenhouse gas emissions limits set in the legislation. Danskammer has not responded to a request for comment.

Among the groups that have opposed the project is Scenic Hudson. The group’s president Ned Sullivan spoke with WAMC's Jim Levulis.

Sullivan: The crux of the opposition has been that this plant would be a new source of fossil fuel energy generation and a major emitter of greenhouse gases at a time when New York's law and policy require the end of the use of fossil fuels and a transition to renewables. So this would have flown in the face of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which envisions an end to fossil fuel emissions.

Levulis: And in regards to that legislation, do you think that this denial of the permit is precedent setting in regards to the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act?

Sullivan: Absolutely, this is a key precedent and I salute Governor [Kathy] Hochul and Commissioner Basil Seggos and the Department of Environmental Conservation, they have demonstrated their commitment to adhering to the law and to requiring and demanding that we make that shift from fossil fuels and the end to greenhouse gas emissions in the energy sector. So this is very exciting. Precedent setting. I think it's a nationally significant decision.

Levulis: Now the proposal for this generating facility in Newburgh was proposed before the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act was signed into law. Do you think New York state would have approved the project without the legislation?

Sullivan: Well, the decision did turn on the specific provisions of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. So it is possible it could have been approved if that had not been the law of New York State. It would have been both a major new emitter of greenhouse gases but also toxic emissions. And this in a community, the town of Newburgh right next to the city of Newburgh, where people of color have suffered for years from the emissions from the power plants that exists there now, both historically coal, oil and gas-fired. In addition, Newburgh residents have faced water pollution contamination of their drinking water supplies. So this was a real environmental justice community. It is an environmental justice community. And Governor Hochul and Commissioner Seggos have demonstrated that the provisions of the climate law that require what they call a ‘just transition,’ taking into account the impacts on environmental justice community are reflected in their actions.

Levulis: What is your understanding of the next steps regarding this proposal? Danskammer Energy to appeal the decision?

Sullivan: We hope they do not. I think this is a legally sound, very strong decision based on the letter of the law. So we hope Danskammer walks away from it. We have previously proposed and I've personally reached out to the principal of the Danskammer plant to indicate that we think this is a great site for battery storage or energy storage with battery cells. And this was months ago and our proposal was rejected. But we intend to go back and say ‘Hey, this is a time when storage is crucial to enable the use of renewable energies and this would be a terrific site for that.’ And also or a recreational use of the waterfront, conceivably even some commercial development. So this could be a new waterfront site for the town of Newburgh if Danskammer is willing to consider alternatives.

Levulis: Now, Danskammer currently operates a generating station in Newburgh. With this denial of the proposed new facility will that existing plant just continue to run?

Sullivan: It is possible that it will continue to run until its permits expire. It operates about 1% to 2% of its capacity per year. That's about 30 hours. And that's been true for the last five years or so. So, while it is, by no means a state-of-the art facility, it operates so infrequently that its impacts are dramatically less than the new plant would have had.

Levulis: And finally switching to another topic concerning energy and the environment. New York has awarded contracts for two transmission projects to bring hydropower from upstate New York and Canada to New York City. The Champlain Hudson Power Express would include running transmission lines under Lake Champlain and the Hudson River. Where does Scenic Hudson stand on those efforts?

Sullivan: Well, regarding the Champlain Hudson project, Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper intervened some years ago in the permitting to address certain concerns that we had about the routing of the plant and the environmental impacts. And we intervened through the formal permitting process. And our concerns were addressed and the routing was modified. As a result of that settlement, we are no longer actively engaged with the project. We’re not in favor of it. We're not opposed to it. We have simply intervened to address specific concerns and are now effectively neutral on the proposal.