State pulls plug on controversial Orange County power plant

By Brian Nearing

August 3, 2018

Competitive Power Ventures was caught up on Percoco corruption trial

ALBANY — The state has pulled the plug on a controversial new power plant in Orange County that played a role in the recent corruption trial of one of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's former top aides.

This week, the state Department of Environmental Conservation declined to renew a critical permit for Competitive Power Ventures. Without a new permit, the now-completed 680-megawatt plant in Wawayanda cannot go online.

In a statement issued Friday, DEC said the permit, which was originally issued to the company in 2013 and expired Tuesday, was not renewed because it "does not meet current regulatory requirements."

Before the company can operate its plant, which is estimated to have cost about $900 million, it must apply for and receive from DEC another type of air pollution permit, called a Title V permit. That process could take months.

These permits regulate pollution under the federal Clean Air Act and require a detailed environmental review.

"Facilities of this size and nature must be subject to the most rigorous air pollution controls to ensure the public is protected, and Title V permits provide for greater transparency and community input prior to authorization," according to the DEC statement.

In a letter to CPV Vice President Steve Remillard, DEC warned that the company "may not lawfully operate the facility" without the Title V permit. It added that the company could be fined $15,000 a day for any violation.

Earlier this month, CPV officials were publicly saying that the plant could become operational in a matter of weeks. The state denial will delay that indefinitely.

A former CPV senior executive was caught up in the pay-to-play scandal that ensnared Cuomo's former top aide Joe Percoco, who was convicted in March of trading cash for official favors.

In May, former CPV executive Peter Galbraith Kelly, 54, of Canterbury, Conn., pleaded guilty in federal court to arranging what prosecutors called a "low-show job" for Percoco's wife that paid nearly $287,000 between 2012 and 2016.

Federal prosecutors alleged that Kelly paid off Percoco for his help in securing a much-needed power purchase agreement for the CPV plant. At the time, testimony showed, the state was seeking replacement sources to generate energy should the Indian Point nuclear plant along the Hudson River close.

The case against Kelly resulted in a hung jury, but he subsequently pleaded guilty to a single count of fraud conspiracy related to his efforts to secure the job for Lisa Percoco. Kelly will be sentenced Sept. 28. He faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Richard Webster, legal director for the environmental group Riverkeeper, said the Orange County power plant, which has been in a testing phase this year, has been causing localized pollution issues.

"Operating something like this badly up front, and then being found to have bribed state officials is not something that should be rewarded," Webster said. "There is a larger lesson here: Don't do this in New York state — or there will be consequences."

Webster said it normally takes a year or more for a Title V air pollution permit to be applied for and reviewed by DEC before any potential approval, so the plant's possibde opening is likely off for at least that long.

Riverkeeper represented local opponents to the power plant, including the grassroots environmental group Protect Orange County. In April, Webster and local elected officials made a public plea to DEC to deny CPV the critical environmental permit.

A CPV executive said the company wants to cooperate with DEC.

"We remain committed to operating within all applicable operating permit requirements and look forward to working with the DEC to address any concerns they may have," said company Senior Vice President Tom Rumsey.

"At each step of the process, we have worked collaboratively with regulators at every level of government," he added.  Rumsey said

Webster predicted the CPV will "pull out all the legal stops" to undo the state's denial. "We will support DEC and the state in their opposition to CPV," he said.

A state organizer for Food & Water Watch also supported the measure. "Any action by the state that prevents the CPV fossil fuel power plant from coming online is a good thing," said Laura Shindell. "We continue to call on Governor Cuomo do whatever is necessary to ensure that the CPV never comes online, and reject all fossil fuel infrastructure everywhere."

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