Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Jamie Smith Hopkins, The Center for Public Integrity

  • Email: jhopkins@publicintegrity.org

Big power plant ignites political fight in small Pennsylvania town

A wave of new gas-fired power plants is hitting the nation, with uncertain implications for the climate. The local consequences can be just as thorny.

Lackawanna Energy Center

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

At 1,485 megawatts the Lackawanna Energy Center is one of the largest natural gas power plants in the works nationwide.

JESSUP—The biggest new natural-gas power plant in a state awash with them is taking shape on a mountain ridge overlooking the community it cleaved apart.

First came questions about pollution and property values. Lawyers and public-records requests followed. Now this borough of 4,500, where it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that everybody knows everybody, is embroiled in a full-out political revolt.

Pro-plant incumbents up for election this year — two council members and the mayor — were booted in the May primary. A ticket organized by plant opponents boasts five people on the ballot in next week’s general election — candidates for all the open council seats and even school board director, which shows just how far the fault lines over the Lackawanna Energy Center extend. Relationships have been upended. Mistrust in local government has surged.

“It’s like a raw nerve,” said Ellen Nielsen, president of the school board.

Pennsylvania has long been a power-plant colossus, exporting electricity to other states because it makes more than it uses — historically with coal and nuclear. The Jessup plant is at the vanguard of a new boom fueled by the state’s plentiful natural gas.

Only Texas has more planned gas-fired generation in the queue, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. Energy firms have proposed over 40 gas-fired projects in Pennsylvania since 2011, including in Jessup’s neighbor Archbald. Fourteen are under construction or operating. At 1,485 megawatts, Jessup’s Lackawanna Energy Center is one of the largest in the works nationwide, according to EIA data — part of a dramatic coast-to-coast expansion of gas-fired plants.

Developers have proposed more than 40 gas-fired power plants in Pennsylvania since 2011, spread around the state. Red icons on the map represent small projects using internal combustion engines. The plant-shaped orange icons represent larger, combined-cycle turbine projects. (Map by WITF’s Tom Downing.)

Map tiles by Stamen Design, under CC BY 3.0.

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