For Rendell, Jessup plant might prove fertile
Former Gov. Ed Rendell plays politics at the highest levels so his last-minute interest in a relatively small power plant in Jessup surprised more than a few people.
Look a little deeper and maybe the former Democratic National Committee chairman’s interest gets clearer.
In case you missed it, Mr. Rendell wrote an opinion column favoring Invenergy Thermal Development LLC’s proposed Jessup natural gas plant. The Times-Tribune published the column Tuesday and wrote a story about it just a day before the Jessup council took the first step toward backing a zoning amendment that could eventually allow Invenergy to build the plant.
Mr. Rendell said he was not paid by Invenergy or anyone associated with the project, and we’ll take him at his word, but he’s no virgin here.
His most benign interest is his long-held belief that the state — and the nation, for that matter — is better off switching to alternative forms of energy. As governor, he pushed the state to buy up to 20 percent of its electricity from wind, solar and other alternative energy sources. Natural gas, because it’s still a fossil fuel, isn’t viewed as alternative energy by many environmentalists, but it produces less globe-warming carbon-dioxide emissions than coal-powered plants. Mr. Rendell knows that and said that, referring to the Invenergy project as one that continues to move the state toward creating “good-paying, middle-class jobs while moving toward a cleaner energy economy.”
What he didn’t say is the law firm he works for loves clean energy, too.
After he left the governor’s office, he rejoined Ballard Spahr LLP of Philadelphia, where Mr. Rendell was a partner for three ye ar s after his second term as Philadelphia mayor ended and before his days as gover nor. When he returned there in 2011, a firm news release s ai d he was rejoining as a partner, but now he’s listed as a special counsel. His biography on the firm’s website calls him “a champion for progress in the area of alternative energy.” We’ll give him that. Ballard Spahr, according to its website, represents “producers and distributors of electricity from renewable and other sources, operators of regional wholesale energy markets, natural gas producers, and large industrial con- sumers of natural gas.”
Not to mention they “also represent underwriters, private issuers, banks, and others who invest in energy assets.”
One company Ballard Spahr has represented and hopes to keep representing, according to one document we f ound, is NRG Energy, a huge alternative and conventional energy company. During the first quarter of this year, NRG Energy’s main subsidiary joined Invenergy in acquiring a majority stake in Spring Canyon II and III, a wind-power farm in northeast Colorado.
Theres nothing wrong with any of this. NRG and Invenergy can hook up on projects, and Mr. Rendell can back whatever projects he wants. It’s a free country, but he isn’t interest-free when it comes to Jessup. That’s not all. As a politician, no one raised campaign money better than Ed Rendell. His campaigns broke records for fundraising in Pennsylvania gubernatorial races.
Some of his contributors even live here. One big one, especially. Since 2005, real- estate developer William F. Rinaldi of Moosic contributed $66,072 to Mr. Rendell’s campaigns for governor and the governor campaign’s successor political action committee, Keeping America Competitive, which is based in Philadelphia. His most recent contribution, $5,000, came in December 2013.
That was 14 months after Invenergy signed an option to buy the land where its Jessup power plant will go. The Pompey Coal Co. owns the land.
Old- t i mers probably remember Pompey. Pompey is a coal-era relic. Formed in June 1931, the company mined coal. It pretty much went out of business, but its land holdings stayed with the owner’s descendants. In the last few years, they sold their interests in the acres where the plant would go to Pompey.
William F. Rinaldi is Pompey’s president.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with any of this. People can contribute to anyone they want to. As long as politicians don’t openly trade the contributions for favors to their donors, this is all perfectly legal.
Mr. Rendell might not even realize that one of his big contributors is involved in the deal. Heck, he had a lot of even big contributors, some of them a lot bigger. (That guy in Dunmore comes to mind.)
Besides, Mr. Rendell said it was the Invenergy folks who asked him to weigh in, not Mr. Rinaldi, who has the deal with Invenergy.
It’s doubtful Mr. Rendell’s op-ed swayed anyone on Jessup’s council. After all, he wasn’t the first to tell council members they should vote to pave the way for Invenergy.
Maybe he has another, greater purpose in mind. Mr. Rendell is chairman of Katie McGinty’s campaign for the U.S. Senate next year. She’s going to need a lot of money. The former state environmental secretary loves alternative energy, too. She really pushed it in her year on the job, but Mr. Rendell is the rainmaker when it comes to raising campaign money.
He was always great at raising money from business interests for his campaigns, including from the gas industry.
Ed Rendell backed that little power plant in Jessup, but he’s a complicated guy who loves to paint the larger picture.
BORYS KRAWCZENIUK, The Times-Tribune politics reporter, writes Random Notes, which has appeared weekly since November 1895.