As workers broke ground on the installation of new electricity generators in the harbor, environmentalists and power company execs celebrated hard-won common ground.
The occasion was a Thursday morning groundbreaking ceremony for three new natural gas turbines being built by New Jersey-based power company Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG). The $136 million project will install new “peaking plants” to kick in with 130 megawatts of available power at times when the grid is maxed out. The three GE LM-6000 natural gas turbines are expected to be operational by June 2012.
Thursday’s event marked the culmination of a process that began nearly two years ago, when PSEG first pitched the plant plan. It was initially met by an outpouring of neighborhood opposition prompted by fears of increased pollution. But after thorough negotiations between the city, environmental groups, and the power company, PSEG agreed to a Community Benefits Agreement that will ensure no net increase in pollution at the site.
“I believe this process worked well,” announced Richard Lopriore, president of PSEG Fossil LLC.
From the beginning, the city’s position was clear: “No increase in air emissions,” Lopriore said.
After consultation with the Connecticut Fund for the Environment and the Environmental Justice Network (EJN), PSEG was able to meet most of the city’s requirement. But getting it down to zero required a payment of $500,000, which the city will use for retrofitting local garbage trucks and other port equipment with diesel filters, and to install electric outlets for boats docked in the harbor, so they don’t have to run their dirty diesel engines to have electricity while in port.
Construction of the plant will bring about 100 construction jobs to the city, Lopriore said.
Mayor John DeStefano called the agreement between with PSEG an indication that “we can do extraordinary things” when problems are dealt with cooperatively and “with good attitudes.”
It shows “what a creative and productive process can happen when people work together,” said Anstress Farwell, of the New Haven Urban Design League and the Environmental Justice Network. “All kinds of great things can happen.”
Farwell, DeStefano, and Lopriore were joined by mechanic Paul Kovalski for the ceremonial dirt-tossing that ended the event. Kovalski, wearing bifocal safety glasses, was recognized for fifty years of service.
Kovalski, who’s 70 and has no plans to retire, said he “takes apart pumps and puts pumps together.” He said things haven’t changed much in his job over 50 years. “It’s mostly nuts and bolts and steam turbines and all that kind of stuff.”
As participants helped themselves to sandwiches and sodas, Farwell and fellow EJN member Larry Smith chatted with Rick Thigpen, head of state and local affairs for PSEG. They saluted their newfound common ground and said that continued dialogue is the way to future success as well.
Farwell later said that the local community’s vocal outrage also helped the negotiations. “[PSEG] knew they had to get to zero [net emissions] or this community would never stop.”
In an email message, Farwell further credited Meg Howard and Nathalie Alegre, co-chairs of the New Haven Environmental Justice Network, Roger Reynolds, senior staff attorney with the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, and Dr. David Brown, a consulting toxicologist, and Dr. Mark Mitchell, a former member of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice.