Smell and noise from power plant wor­ries res­i­dents; DEP says it’s va­por and steam

The Times-Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - BY FRANK WILKES LESNEFSKY STAFF WRITER

JES­SUP — A thick cloud, burn­ing smell and loud noises orig­i­nat­ing from the Lack­awanna En­ergy Cen­ter last week con­cerned some bor­ough res­i­dents, but of­fi­cials say it was only wa­ter va­por and steam.

The Penn­syl­va­nia Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion re­ceived five com­plaints about the en­ergy cen­ter late Nov. 25, said DEP spokes­woman Colleen Con­nolly. Res­i­dents re­ported an odor and cloud near In­ven­ergy LLC’S nat­u­ral gas power plant but DEP in­spected and only saw wa­ter va­por com­ing from the stacks of Unit 1 and Unit 2, she said in an email. The units are two of the plant’s three gen­er­a­tor units. Unit 3 is near­ing com­ple­tion and un­der­go­ing test­ing and com­mis­sion­ing.

Nei­ther unit ex­ceeded any per­mit­ted lim­its of car­bon monox­ide, ni­tro­gen ox­ides or am­mo­nia be­tween mid­night Nov. 25 and 11 p.m. Nov. 26, Con­nolly said.

As an ir­ri­tant, ni­tro­gen

ox­ides, or NOX, would cause in­di­vid­u­als to feel a scratchy feel­ing in their lungs but could cause more se­ri­ous is­sues for those with res­pi­ra­tory problems, such as asthma.

Based on pho­tos the DEP re­viewed, the depart­ment “de­ter­mined that the cloud ap­pears to be wa­ter va­por that you would ex­pect to see from any com­bus­tion source on a cold day with high hu­mid­ity,” Con­nolly said. The pho­tos did not show any “resid­ual opac­ity” or smoke be­yond the va­por, which is ex­pected from nat­u­ral gas com­bus­tion, and, there was a heavy layer of fog that night, she said.

Dur­ing a Nov. 27 in­spec­tion of the en­ergy cen­ter, the DEP “did not ob­serve any noise or odors dur­ing the site visit,” In­ven­ergy spokes­woman Beth Con­ley said in an email.

Unit 2 of the en­ergy cen­ter was shut down for main­te­nance and restarted just be­fore mid­night Nov. 25, and dur­ing the shut­down, a pipe in the plant filled with steam, caus­ing a pres­sure-re­lief valve to open briefly, she said.

“This may ac­count for the un­usual noise re­ported, how­ever it would have lasted only a few sec­onds,” Con­ley said.

Jes­sup Bor­ough Coun­cil­man Peter Lar­i­oni ques­tioned In­ven­ergy rep­re­sen­ta­tive Chris Smith dur­ing this week’s coun­cil meet­ing.

“We had some com­plaints about yel­low smoke, and noise and peo­ple with phys­i­cal problems,” Lar­i­oni said.

The re­lief valve opens for a cou­ple sec­onds at a time and “this may have hap­pened two or three times dur­ing the shut­down pe­riod, but that was it,” Smith said.

Jes­sup res­i­dent and plan­ning com­mis­sion Chair­woman Paula Nen­ish said she heard some­thing that sounded “like a jet en­gine” at about mid­night that night, and the sound con­tin­ued in­ter­mit­tently un­til about 3 a.m.

In­ven­ergy in­formed DEP that Unit 2 be­gan startup at 11:23 p.m. Nov. 25, shut down at 12:24 a.m., be­gan start­ing up again at 1:39 and com­pleted startup at 2:10, Con­nolly said.

“Startup of these units can be dif­fi­cult at times,” she said, ex­plain­ing they are de­signed to run con­sis­tently.

Just af­ter mid­night Nov. 26, Jes­sup res­i­dent An­thony Wright­son, who op­poses the plant, said he saw the plume above the plant and drove through Jes­sup tak­ing pho­tos and video. He com­pared the odor to burn­ing wires, which he said made him cough, and said he heard a loud hum for hours and felt his eyes burn.

“It wasn’t just that day,” he told the news­pa­per, clar­i­fy­ing that he reg­u­larly no­tices a burn­ing smell de­pend­ing on the wind di­rec­tion. “When­ever it’s run­ning, you get an odor . ... That night it was bad.”

Bor­ough res­i­dent Tim Sea­mans also went out to get pho­tos when he saw the plumes. A plant op­po­nent, Sea­mans, who says he has chronic ob­struc­tive pul­monary dis­ease and asthma, said within 10 min­utes, his eyes teared, his nose ran and he be­gan cough­ing. The fol­low­ing day, he said he could not stop wheez­ing and cough­ing.

“This has re­ally, re­ally ag­gra­vated my breath­ing,” Sea­mans said.

Smith said res­i­dents can dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween smoke and steam plumes by look­ing for sep­a­ra­tion be­tween the plume and the power plant’s stacks.

What res­i­dents saw is “not a smoke plume at all,” Smith said. Steam plumes will have a gap be­tween the plume and the top of the stack, whereas smoke will be a con­tin­u­ous stream out of the stack.

“The vis­i­ble plume that you are observing is when moist, hot ex­haust tem­per­a­ture hits the colder, hu­mid at­mos­phere con­di­tions that cause con­den­sa­tion in the at­mos­phere,” he said.

Sea­mans and Wright­son both pointed to an In­ven­ergy facts page from 2015 that said, “No vis­i­ble emis­sions. Due to the switch to air-cool­ing, the plant will not pro­duce vis­i­ble emis­sions.”

“We feel that they bla­tantly lied that there were no vis­i­ble emis­sions,” Sea­mans said.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF AN­THONY WRIGHT­SON

The Lack­awanna En­ergy Cen­ter early on Nov. 26.

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