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DEC rejects key permit for proposed Danskammer power plant in Newburgh

  • Oct 27, 2021
Times Herald-Record

Oct. 28—TOWN OF NEWBURGH — State officials on Wednesday denied a crucial permit for Danskammer to replace its aging, gas-fired power plant on the Hudson River with a more modern version, dealing the $500 million project a potentially fatal blow.

In a 14-page letter rejecting an air-pollution permit, a state Department of Environmental Conservation director argued that allowing another fossil-fuel plant would contradict a 2019 state law aiming to slash greenhouse gas emissions and shift to renewable energy. He also said Danskammer had failed to justify the need for the 536 megawatts of electricity its new plant would produce.

Daniel Whitehead, the director of DEC's Division of Environmental Permits, wrote that the facility would create substantial greenhouse gases and "constitute a new and long-term utilization of fossil fuels to produce electricity without a specific plan in place to comply with the requirements of the Climate Act."

Danskammer has 30 days to request an adjudicatory hearing to appeal the permit denial before an administrative law judge. A company spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on the decision.

Environmental activists rejoiced after Basil Seggos, the state environmental conservation commissioner, announced in back-to-back statements the denial of air permits for both Danskammer and a proposal for another gas-fired plant in Queens. They praised Seggos and Gov. Kathy Hochul, who took office in August after Andrew Cuomo resigned.

"Governor Hochul's decision strikes a critical blow to the fossil fuel industry, providing a huge victory for New York's climate movement," said Alex Beauchamp, the northeast region director for the group Food & Water Watch. "She is showing the nation what real climate leadership looks like."

Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan, whose group has rallied opposition to the Danskammer project, said his group hoped the permit denial would "end plans to construct such a needless and harmful facility," but "will continue doing all we can to ensure it never gets built."

Hochul issued her own statement to applaud the permit denials "in the context of our state's clean energy transition."

"Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time, and we owe it to future generations to meet our nation-leading climate and emissions reduction goals," she said.

Seggos said his department reached its decision on Danskammer after a comprehensive review of its application and supporting materials and the more than 4,500 public comments it received on the proposal. (The Queens project drew more than 6,600 comments.)

The 70-year-old Danskammer plant is in the northeast corner of the town of Newburgh and of Orange County, near the Ulster County line. It generates up to 532 megawatts but is relegated to a "peaker plant" because of its inefficiency, meaning it operates only about 20 times a year when electricity demand is highest.

The new facility would be built next to the existing one and be used regularly.

Danskammer has argued its proposed plant would supply needed electricity until renewable sources can do so, and would run more cleanly than its outdated facility. Environmental groups have countered that the volume of air pollution from a full-time plant would outweigh the benefits of its cleaner operation.

Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus issued a neutral statement on the permit denial on Wednesday, saying the project is regulated by the DEC and other agencies and "will not have a chance to proceed" if it doesn't meet their standards.

Pat Ryan, his counterpart in Ulster County, cheered the decision, saying the Danskammer project "offered an outdated dirty energy solution to a problem that requires a modern, clean energy approach in an area known for its historical roots in the environmental movement."

State Sen. James Skoufis, whose district includes the town of Newburgh, said he wasn't surprised by the decision, and vowed to work with "local communities, building trades, and environmental stakeholders to put forward a project for the existing Danskammer site that both aligns with New York's climate laws and serves the needs of our area."

"As I've consistently stated, the law is the law: any new project must comply with the state's new climate standards," Skoufis said. "If a project is non-compliant, it cannot proceed, simple as that."

Newburgh Supervisor Gil Piaquadio said he supported the project because it would replace an inefficient plant that uses Hudson River water for cooling. "I just do not want the old plant running anymore," he said.

By coincidence, activists had planned to descend on the Capitol on Tuesday to deliver thousands of petitions demanding Hochul deny the Danskammer permit — and then stage a Halloween-themed rally. They wound up canceling plans because of the torrential storm and expected flash flooding, which itself became a symbol of the perils of climate change that they were protesting.

"The irony of cancelling a climate rally in order to stay safe in a climate change-induced weather event, is not lost on us," Emily Skydel, the Hudson Valley organizer for Food & Water Watch, said in a statement. "Climate change is here, making our storms more frequent and more dangerous."


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