Amy Roe: Public disclosure needed for Newark power plant

The City of Newark has been negotiating for more than a year in support of a 248 megawatt natural gas fired power plant for The Data Centers LLC.

[“TDC has signed a lease with the University of Delaware to occupy a site on the STAR Campus and has lined up over half of the construction funding with investment bankers. The STAR campus is a 272-acre property purchased by the University of Delaware from Chrysler during is bankruptcy back in 2009. TDC will lease 43 acres, and will be the second tenant there, next door to Bloom Energy, which makes solid-oxide fuel cells.

Three tenants have already agreed to occupy space at the TDC facility when the site is operational in late 2014, including the University of Delaware. Opportunities exist for additional tenants to reserve space in the first phase of the facility as well.”]

The proposed power plant is more than double Newark’s current electric load (including the University of Delaware and industrial customers) of 92 MW.

At half the capacity of the Conowingo Dam and one-quarter that of Hope Creek nuclear power plant, 248 MW would generate more electricity than the cloud storage facility actually needs.

Extra electricity would be sold in a financing model that The New York Times described as a “wildcat power utility.”

While this project promises jobs and tax revenues, it also raises concerns about quality of life. Government officials have been keeping the specifics under wraps.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, I recently learned some of the details of the city’s efforts to support the power plant: 250 pages of documents show city staff signed a confidentiality agreement in July 2012; wrote a letter in support of the request for state funds for two natural gas pipelines to the Delaware Economic Development Office; met regularly about this for more than a year; and made efforts to classify the power plant as “incidental and subordinate” to avoid public zoning review by City Council.

Residents of Newark have questions. Rep. John Kowalko and I asked City Council at the June 10 and July 22 meetings to host a public meeting to make the project’s details known. We’ve been told a public meeting will not be held until the “final plans” are completed and a meeting to educate the public would “waste our residents’ time.”

The City of Newark has dismissed an opportunity for stakeholder involvement and the cultivation of public trust. Once final, how can our concerns be included in the plans? If we’re forced to wait for final plans, I fear it will be too late. Residents want to know how the power plant will impact our quality of life before the project plans are finalized.

How will the power plant impact property values?The Effect of Power Plants on Local Housing Values and Rents” (Review of Economics and Statistics, November 2011) reported 3 percent to 7 percent decreases in housing values and rents within 2 miles of power plants and larger decreases when closer than 1 mile. How much air pollution can we expect? We’re already in non-attainment of the Clean Air Act National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone and recently received the grade F from the National Lung Association. Natural gas power plants produce nitrogen oxides, a leading source of ozone. Ozone is so harmful to health that the state issues action alerts to warn people not to go outside on high ozone days. Just breathing the air is dangerous.

Newark has taken air pollution seriously and recently passed an anti-idling law to reduce ozone and other pollutants. We can’t idle our cars for more than 5 minutes in city limits, but the city welcomes a power plant in one of the highest density residential areas in the state?

How much water will the power plant consume? Where is this water going to come from? Where will the hot water discharges go? Because of the confidentiality agreement, the city has withheld this information.

How will the two new natural gas pipelines get to Newark? Will they cross our “Wild and Scenic” White Clay Creek?

How much noise will the power plant produce? Will the amount of noise impact quality of life? Newark enjoys autonomy from state oversight of its electric utility and is exempt from the Public Service Commission. It’s the responsibility of City Council to oversee utility affairs. Yet the Delaware Municipal Electric Corporation, from which Newark buys wholesale power, is making negotiations for the Purchase Power Agreement on our behalf, adding another layer of secrecy to the project.

We don’t even know who is financing this.

Newark City Council meets on the second and fourth Mondays of each month at City Hall, 220 S. Main St., Newark. Residents are allowed three minutes for public comment.


City Press Releases – No Set Plans for Data Center Project at STAR Campus in Newark – July 24, 2013

Newark, DE (July 24, 2013) – The City of Newark, along with state officials, has been meeting with The Data Center Company for over a year about plans for the reportedly highly reliable state-of-the-art data storage facility at STAR Campus. However, plans have yet to be submitted to the city….

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