A new power plant hums along quietly on former Cecil farmland

$400 million project still sore issue for community

October 19, 2003|By Amanda Angel | Amanda Angel,SUN STAFF

ROCK SPRINGS - A low hum resonates throughout Rock Springs Generation Facility's 26 acres. It is barely audible beyond the fence surrounding the four-turbine plant, but the hum emanating from Turbine 3 is one of the few indications that between 120 and 170 megawatts of electricity is being generated.

Rock Springs Generation Facility is a 684-megawatt power plant on a 114-acre farm that sits at the northwest corner of Cecil County and southern Lancaster County, Pa. The power plant is entirely in Cecil County. Con Edison, a New York-based utility, and Old Dominion Electric Cooperative of Glen Allen, Va., each own two turbines and share the rest of the facilities, including an 8 million-gallon water tank, 12 million-gallon manmade pond and all the plant's controls. Natural gas fuels the plant exclusively.

Since it is autumn, a season when electricity use is at a minimum, the plant is fairly quiet. According to Robert McNally, the plant engineer, the plant's production supplements the electricity flowing through the Pennsylvania/New Jersey/Maryland power grid as needed. McNally expects that the plant will run more heavily during the winter and summer, when electricity demand is higher because of heating or air conditioning.

A four-state search for a site for a power plant began in 1999 when Old Dominion decided that it needed to increase the amount power it could supply to its Eastern Seaboard users. It initially embarked upon the $400 million project with Reliant Energy. When Reliant pulled out, Con Edison adopted the project.

The location is favorable for a power plant. It lies near a natural gap pipeline as well as high-voltage power lines. The site also is home to a large power transmission substation. When the property came on the market, Old Dominion jumped at the chance to buy the property, said John Roberts, project coordinator and site supervisor for Old Dominion.

"When you're looking for sites, you need close proximity to natural gas and ease of hooking up to a distribution system," McNally said.

Water also was a concern, McNally said, so the pond was dug to collect rainwater and runoff, which is used to help cool equipment. The Susquehanna River Basin Commission taxes the plant 14 cents per gallon of water used. Both the pond and water tank are close to capacity, McNally said.

Amid fears of environmental and noise pollution from the power plant, the activist group Rock Springs Community Alliance was formed to oppose the construction of the facility. An agreement with the state that the plant would emit no more than 55 decibels - the equivalent of speaking softly - as measured at plant fences, enabled construction to proceed.

Roberts estimated that $1 million was spent to outfit the turbines with sound-absorbing panels. The facility held an opening ceremony Oct. 3.

The Rock Springs Community Alliance is satisfied with the measures imposed on the facility, even though it still opposes the plant and members still express concern about possible environmental impact. The president of the group, Edward L. Newell, said that the plant is still a contentious issue in the community.

"Some people want to move away, but they can't because their property values have decreased [because of the plant]," he said.

Newell spearheaded the opposition to the plant and continues to check the plant's emissions data to make sure the facility has a minimal effect on the environment. He says that at night neighbors can hear the humming of the turbines.

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