The developer of a proposed 20-megawatt electric-generating power plant in the Town of Ulster held a contentious public information meeting at the town’s senior center on Wednesday, Jan. 17, with the majority of those in the packed room opposing the project.
An exchange in the second half of the meeting between a woman in the audience and Peter Rood, chief development officer for Chicago-based GlidePath, showed the chasm between many in the crowd and those hoping to see the power plant operate on around three acres of a 122-acre site currently owned by Kingston Landing LLC off Frank Sottile Boulevard.
“Since you said you pretty much haven’t made a decision whether to go forward, all of our opinions you said do count for whether you will go forward,” said the unidentified woman. “Could you humor me before the end of this meeting and take a poll … so you are well informed of who wants this project to raise their hand in this room?”
“I don’t think that’s going to advance the conversation,” said Rood. “I think it’s been very clear … ”
“But you said our opinions do count, correct?”
“Yeah, but I’m not going to count them though.”
According to the developer’s plans, a building housing the equipment would stand for between 30-40 feet in height; an exhaust stack would rise above the structure, and though developers were initially determined to keep that below the 100-foot height limit for the area, Rood last week said they’d scaled back the proposed height to around 80 feet, and hoped to get the stack lower than the tree line along the property, which is roughly 70 feet high. The project would include the 20-megawatt lithium ion battery array, and natural gas-powered reciprocating engine generators which could also use on-site low-sulfur diesel stored in a tank if the gas supply is disrupted.
The open house agenda for last week’s public meeting listed 6-7 p.m. as a time for discussions with the project team, 7-7:45 p.m. as a presentation of the project, and 7:45 p.m.-9 p.m. as discussion and Q&A. But while Rood and other members of the GlidePath team attempted to keep the latter two portions separate, local residents opposing the project frequently blended the two.
“New York State and Ulster County [are] committed to not adding fossil fuel infrastructure, yet you’re coming in to our community and our state and you’re telling us now that we need you to put in increased fossil fuel infrastructure,” said another unidentified woman. “A 50,000-gallon diesel tank and fracked gas. That is not what New York voters have asked for from their government and their legislators. Ulster County is committed to it and New York State is committed to it. Why would we not want fracking in New York State and be okay with it coming from other states?”
In 2015, New York State identified an energy plan that includes 1,500 megawatts of energy storage by 2025, 50 percent renewable generation by 2035, a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2035 and the modernization of the energy infrastructure. While representatives from GlidePath claim their proposed plant was designed with the state’s energy plan in mind, some members in the audience were skeptical.
“Many of us have stopped listening, because we are not on board with this,” said an unidentified woman. “So, you know, if I were working for this company, I’d have to go back to my boss and say, ‘This community wouldn’t even let me finish the presentation,’ and what does that say? You’ve shown solar panels, you’ve shown wind panels, you’ve used the word ‘hybrid,’ you’ve used the words ‘reduction emissions.’ We don’t have any emissions going on right now. And this is not a solar or wind panel project. So it feels a little bit sometimes like a shell game to us, because we’re not being told the full truth.”
Earlier in the meeting, Rood said that different studies show different outcomes, and that GlidePath used data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), a federal agency working under the U.S. Department of Energy.
“I’m aware that there are different ways of calculating the CO2 emissions from different sources of energy,” said Rood. “People can calculate that wind turbines have a CO2 footprint. For the purpose of being consistent, we’re using the EIA data, which is what the industry uses.”
Rood added that it’s not economically viable for GlidePath to use solar energy rather than natural gas.
“We’re a private company, we’re making economic decisions,” he said. “We feel that this is the most economic choice.”
An unidentified man in the back of the room said the economic angle wasn’t relevant, not only to those who live along Ledge Road and Risely Street near the property where the plant would be located, but also those in the community at large.
“Are you going to show us more marketing slides to tell us how wonderful the energy is, and how wonderful the project is, and how much we need it?” he said. “Because I’ll be honest with you, you’re talking to a roomful of people who really don’t feel like we need this.”
A December letter signed by members of Catskill Mountainkeeper, the Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipelines, Kingston Citizens, Riverkeeper, Scenic Hudson, and two Sierra Club groups, urged caution in moving forward.
“The emissions from the plant, which may only be used a handful of times a year but could theoretically run 24/7, will not stop at the Ulster town border,” read the letter.
The project is still a long way off from coming to fruition. It would require site plan approval from the Ulster Town Board, a lot line adjustment from the Town of Ulster Planning Board, an air permit, a stormwater pollution prevention plan, a permit for the petroleum bulk storage tank, a waste oil storage permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and other approvals.
Because the capacity in the senior center wouldn’t allow some members of the public inside, a second meeting was discussed as a possibility.
Supervisor James E. Quigley III said that a second meeting will likely be held in the auditorium at M. Clifford Miller Middle School to accommodate the amount of people interested in participating in the ongoing debate, but he stressed that GlidePath seemed much more interested in sharing information on the project than some members of the public were in hearing about it.
“The company did a very extensive review of potential issues prior o having the meeting and had several more in process or already completed,” Quigley said. “The comments made at the meeting reinforced many of the issues identified in the studies that were either underway or had been completed. I think it’s incumbent that those studies be completed and presented so that the questions can be answered. We are going through a SEQR process. The studies that are being completed to be presented to the town at the Planning Board and Town Board are going to be public, and they will also be made available on the project website [http://lincolnparkgridsupportcenter.com/]. What we’re seeing here is a very clear commitment to communicate.”
Quigley said that the breakdown in the format at the meeting was strictly one-sided.
“The unstructured nature was caused by the people who wanted to shout down the presenter,” he said. “They were so vehement that they didn’t care what was presented.”
He added that while he would like to see the process unfold differently at the next forum, he didn’t expect it would.
“People are going to be people,” Quigley said.
Rood said that despite the contentiousness of the meeting, GlidePath felt compelled to try and answer questions and concerns from members of the public.
“We’re holding this because we understood that there were people that were concerned about the project, who oppose the project,” he said. “This is not required under any of the town’s policies or any of the SEQR processes. We’re doing this because we understood there are people who had questions or concerns and comments. So, you don’t have to be here. We think everybody who is here is interested in the project and wants to learn about it, which we’re trying to share more information. We’re hearing your feedback. And trust me, we’re going to have a discussion about all of this feedback when we get done.”
According to Quigley, the firm opposition to development like that of GlidePath is hurting the town’s economics.
“The issues identified to this project impact any large project coming to the Town of Ulster,” he said. “Just the other day I received a communication from Empire State Development Corporation asking if the town could commit to an expedited approvals process at TechCity. I had to respond in the negative because the issues that were raised here, i.e. fracked gas, are going to be prevalent to any industrial business, which brings jobs and taxes. As long as we have this opposition, we will not enjoy any future development.”