NAUGATUCK — A plan to expand a proposed power plant in Oxford has raised concerns in the borough.
In November the Connecticut Siting Council agreed to consider an application from the Massachusetts-based Competitive Power Ventures for a larger power plant to be built off Woodruff Hill Road in Oxford.
The project had been approved based on permits from 1999 allowing for a 512-megawatt plant on 26 acres in an industrial zone a half-mile east of Waterbury-Oxford Airport. The proposed CPV Towantic Energy Center is now planned to be an 805-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant, to be constructed by June 1, 2019.
The company is seeking to upgrade its two combustion turbines, which would be responsible for the increased electrical output. CPV also wants to add six acres to the south of the facility site to allow for storm water management, as well as relocate the plant’s stacks to minimize potential effects on air traffic at the airport.
A coalition of residents from Naugatuck, Oxford and Middlebury has formed the group Stop Towantic Power in opposition to the proposal. Their concerns center around the size of the new proposal, emissions from the plant and the impact the plant will have on property values.
“This current proposal is a 53 percent increase over an original proposal made in 1999 that called for a 512-megawatt power plant. They are now looking for a 785-megawatt plant that will be exponentially more polluting,” Naugatuck resident and member of Stop Towantic Power Chester Cornacchia said.
Len Yannielli, a prominent environmental activist in Naugatuck and the community outreach director for the volunteer committee that maintains Gunntown Passive Park and Nature Preserve, also expressed concerns about the impact the plant would have on the environment.
“We’re concerned about the dirty fossil fuel going up 1.2 miles from Gunntown Passive Park,” Yannielli said. “We know sulfur dioxide goes out for a radius of at least 10 miles.”
Cornacchia said the borough has worked to clean up the pollution of its past and does not need any more added to its concerns.
“Naugatuck knows all too well the ravages that a community suffers when it neglects the environment. We’ve spent the better part of 40 years cleaning the mess left behind from Uniroyal Chemical Plant and other past industrial polluters. Our river used to be nasty and polluted, our air was filled with soot and stench. Thankfully those days are gone, but we still have environmental issues from days gone by that remain to this day continue to hamper economic activity,” Cornacchia said.
Cornacchia said the proposed power plant is not congruent with the borough’s vision for its future.
“Our goals are to create a live, work, play destination community that emphasizes quality of life and activity in a clean, environmentally-sound urban setting. We have made strides in that realm and mostly because of the shedding our brown, industrial past. The Oxford Towantic Hill Power Plant proposal is inconsistent with our community environmental objectives,” Cornacchia said.
Residents aren’t the only ones concerned. The Borough of Naugatuck and the Naugatuck Water Pollution Control Authority have been granted intervenor status by the Siting Council in the proceedings. Intervenor status allows someone to file evidence with the council before a hearing and present witnesses at a hearing for questioning.
Naugatuck Water Pollution Control Chairman Authority Ronald Merancy said the original plan for the plant was for it to be powered by natural gas. The current plan calls for both natural gas and oil, he said. He’s concerned that the effluent, or wastewater run-off, could be changed by the proposed expansion of the plant.
“A natural gas fire plant versus a plant using oil could be a difference of what’s in the water,” Merancy said. “The other concern is when using oil instead of gas the amount of water increases substantially. It’s a different type of effluent. We need to know exactly what is in the effluent and we weren’t originally told what was in it.”
Proponents of the proposal, including Oxford town officials, say the plant would provide a much-needed boost to Oxford ‘s economy in the form of lower taxes. Based on calculations for the smaller facility approved in 1999, the tax rate would drop by 2.05 mills if the plant is constructed. Proponents also have said the plant will produce enough electricity to supply 750,000 Connecticut homes.
Yannielli argued that Oxford would be getting money on the backs of its neighboring towns.
“We’re getting the air pollution, the particulates, and the byproducts and Oxford is getting the tax revenue,” Yannielli said.
The Siting Council on Thursday scheduled the first hearing for Jan. 15 in Oxford to hear evidence on the proposal. In case of inclement weather, the hearing will be postponed to Jan. 29.
The Jan. 15 hearing will begin at 1:30 p.m. with a tour of the proposed site.
At 3 p.m. at Oxford High School, council members will begin hearing evidence from CPV, as well as those granted party and intervener status in the application. Public comments will be heard starting at 6 p.m.
CPV spokesman Steven Sullivan and project developer Andrew Bazinet told the Waterbury Republican-American they are confident the project will move forward because of the benefits it will bring to the region, namely lower electricity bills and fewer emissions. They said CPV has made a concerted effort to reach out to the community and address concerns, which have been reflected in the proposed upgrades.
“A lot of the concerns have been addressed in (the petition) and that’s not by mistake,” Bazinet said. “We take a very detail-oriented approach to proposing and developing these facilities and many sensitive areas have been factored into our redesign. This is an improved project. We’re solving a lot of issues on the market and doing it with a more efficient, more reliable facility that minimizes visual impact, emissions and other things.”
Yannielli and Cornacchia said they can support nothing less than a clean energy plant.
“We need renewable energy there. Let’s do wind, let’s do solar. A dirty fossil fuel plant brings us backwards,” Yannielli said.
Cornacchia pointed out that the sate had entered the 20/20 agreement, which means it pledged to be using 20 percent renewable energy by the year 2020.
“We are currently at 3 percent so we have a long way to go in a short period of time,” Cornacchia said.
The Republican-American contributed to this article.