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Troutdale power plant runs into opposition

Multiple groups object to likelihood of air pollution


Several groups with stakes in environmental and air quality in the Columbia River Gorge are contesting a New York-based company’s proposal to build a gas-fired power plant in Troutdale.

Troutdale Energy Center, a subsidiary of Development Partners Group, applied for a site permit through the Oregon Department of Energy in July 2012 to build a 652-megawatt plant at the former

Reynolds aluminum factory site in Troutdale.

Last June, the energy investment company lost a competitive bid to sell power to Portland General Electric. At that time, Willard Ladd, principal at Development Partners, told The Outlook the company planned to move forward with the project anyway.

Before a permit can be issued, the application must be reviewed by the Energy Facility Siting Council, the state agency responsible for regulating and permitting energy facilities in Oregon.

A public hearing was held Sept. 26 for people to voice their concerns on the Troutdale Energy Center.

About a dozen groups showed up to contest the case and have submitted petitions to the council.

Some include the U.S. Forest Service, Columbia River Gorge Commission, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Interlachen Home Owners Association, Oregon Pilots Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

Michael Dianich, a naval architect who lives in Corbett 15 miles from the proposed site of the power plant, also has submitted a petition.

He criticizes “this interloper company from a suburb in New York” for failing to notify the local community about the potential impact of the power plant.

“Hundreds of thousands of people will be affected by this, and most of them have no idea,” Dianich said.

A spokesman at Gallatin Public Affairs, a Portland-based public relations company hired by Development Partners to respond to the media, said otherwise.

Greg Peden said Development Partners has participated in numerous meetings with the local community as part of the Energy Facility Siting process, and has recently addressed questions raised by the Interlachen Inc. homeowners association.

Peden said building the Troutdale Energy Center would create approximately 1,100 construction jobs, and when operational the project would employ roughly 35 people, many professional level jobs.

“We have begun the process with Mt. Hood Community College to develop a training program for these jobs so that they are hired from the local employment pool,” Peden said.

The proposed power plant will include a combined cycle and simple cycle turbine generators with natural gas as the primary fuel, and oil as the back up fuel, according to ODOE’s website.

“It will burn a tremendous amount of fuel, 25 to 30 percent more than the current Boardman plant supplying our power to the Portland metro area,” Dianich said.

The Troutdale Energy Center was originally proposed when PGE put out a request for proposals for new resources to meet the region’s growing demand for electricity.

The Troutdale industrial site appealed to developers because of its location along a natural gas line and existing connection to the power grid.

PGE instead chose to build a base-load plant on its own site near Boardman, and selected two other facilities, a wind farm in southeast Washington and a new flexible peaking facility in Clatskanie.

Development Partners challenged PGE’s decision by filing a claim with regulators at the Oregon Public Utility Commission, saying PGE did not fairly evaluate other bids.

A big objection for environmentalists is the Troutdale Energy Center’s proposed 175-foot cooling tower — billowing 80- to 200-foot plumes — would obstruct views in the nearby Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and pollute the air with nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides and particulate matter.

“Natural gas is clean they’ll say, cleaner than coal or oil,” said Dianich, “but it still pollutes.”

Accidental oil spills, foul odors, increased combustion loads and CO2 emissions were among other concerns.

“Volatile organic compound odors (the smell of diesel oils) could turn Troutdale into a kind of industrial area that no tourist would want to go to,” Dianich said.

Rick Till, legal advocate at Friends of the Columbia River Gorge, said the air pollution emitted from the 652-megawatt facility will contribute to smog and acid rain in the Gorge.

“The facility would undermine goals for continued improvement in air quality in the Gorge,” Till said.

Noise from the power plant also would be intrusive to hikers on nearby recreational trails, he said.

In its petition to the Oregon Department of Energy, Friends of the Gorge also said the facility would discharge water pollution into the Sandy River near one of the most heavily used swimming locations in Oregon.

Lynn Burditt, U.S. Forest Service area manager, wrote “The Forest Service is concerned about degradation of visibility and loss of plant species within the Scenic Area due to this proposed project.”

She concluded, “Because of its proximity to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, this project poses a level of potential environmental impact that would be considerably reduced or nonexistent should the facility be sited further away from the Scenic Area.”

Oregon Pilot’s Association and Aircraft Owners and Pilots Associations also are opposed to thermal plumes from the facility, which they say would be hazardous to pilots using the Troutdale Airport, a majority of whom are student and helicopter pilots.

Another hearing has been tentatively scheduled for Feb. 10.

After all parties have submitted petitions to the contested case, a hearing officer appointed by the Energy Facility Siting Council will determine in a quasi-judicial proceeding if the Troutdale Energy Center proposal complies with state and local permitting requirements.

Till said if developers get the permit, they will have to shop around for a potential customer.

“As far as we know, there is no buyer for the energy they produce,” he said.

Willard Ladd at Development Partners, was unable to be reached for comment regarding who the company plans to sell energy to due to a death in his family, according to Peden, spokesman at Gallatin Public Affairs.

In response to the numerous entities concerned the Troutdale Energy Center will harm the environment, Peden said, the Oregon Department of Energy recently issued a proposed order considering all of the comments submitted by state and federal agencies and the public.

“The Department concluded that the energy center would not have significant adverse effects on the environment,” Peden said. “Development Partners agrees with the Department’s analysis and conclusions contained in the Department’s proposed order."

He said the contested case is another opportunity for people to voice their concerns.

However, Peden said, “Development Partners is confident that the Department’s analysis and conclusions contained in the Department’s proposed order will prevail.”

A few locals are not giving up.

There is a lot of money to be made from this plant, Dianich said.

“Almost anyone can go in and produce electricity,” he said. “I hate to see the destruction of natural property for the benefit of people who like to make money.”



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