Bike shop owner Meenal Raval is concerned about a proposed SEPTA power plant being built in Nicetown.
Since learning about SEPTA’s plans in the spring, she has attended the transportation authority’s board meetings to speak against it — as a business owner and community activist.
“(SEPTA) needs to take a leadership role, and one of them is to not invest in a fossil-fuel based system,” said Raval, whose shop is located on Germantown Avenue in Mt. Airy. “They need to be investing in clean energy.”
If approved by SEPTA’s board, the natural gas plant would be erected in 24 months near the Wayne Junction Substation, close to its Midvale Depot, to generate electricity for the regional rail system.
The “Combined & Power” (CHP) plant would cost approximately $26.8 million and will be financed through energy savings guaranteed to SEPTA under the Pennsylvania Guaranteed Energy Savings Act.
Like Raval, Matt Wang is also a member of 350 Philadelphia, a group against the plan that believes energy sources from solar power and wind would be more beneficial to employees who work and families living in the area.
“This happens to be one of SEPTA’s largest bus depots,” he said. “They have approximately around 500 operators, mechanics, administration staff and other employees that work out of that area, and they would be closest to that gas plant.”
The health risk, Raval and Wang argued, should be enough to deter the project.
"The concern for asthmatics with regards to this plant would be the particulates released as the gas is burned," said Laura Cofsky, a member of the campaign, who said such particulates have been "linked to worsened asthma" conditions.
“One out of every three kids in that community has asthma and that’s a pretty high number,” Raval said. “This is only going to exacerbate the issues.”
But according to SEPTA, all of those things are scare tactics. It stresses that the proposed plant is approximately a 20th of the size of the current the Gray’s Ferry energy plant.
It will include no new pipeline infrastructure that would increase any risk of explosion, and it will reduce emissions from electric power infrastructure, as well as provide a better resource for the train system, according to SEPTA.
“This is the sort of technology that hospitals, retirement communities, cancer centers and universities are installing on their properties,” said Erik Johanson, SEPTA’s director of innovation. “These are being built on top of buildings. This is not the type of technology that if those things are a real risk; you wouldn’t be doing that.”
Over the summer state Rep. Rosita C. Youngblood, who represents the 198th district, wrote a letter to SEPTAs board of behalf of her constituents.
She wrote the plant was the wrong direction to take the transit system because it would release toxic air pollution over the next 20 years, lead to global warming, and expressed concern over the risk of an explosion, along with wasting taxpayers’ money.
“It seems unlikely that SEPTA will be able to obtain electricity more cheaply from renewable sources in the coming years,” Youngblood wrote. “If this project goes forward, SEPTA will be locked into buying electricity from the plant for two decades. Many analysts expect the cost of gas to rise significantly over that time. “
More than 40 groups singed up in support of 350 Philadelphia’s efforts to rally against the plant. The Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower an Rebuild organization joined the list.
“We oppose businesses and large corporations stripping resources from our backyards with little to no regard for the people and families impacted by their exploitative projects and expansions,” said Beulah Osueke POWER’s communications director in an email.
Will the proposed facility have zero emissions? No, however; it will provide clean, abundant and low cost natural gas and will take boilers offline to offset additional emissions.
“We’ve been speaking to SEPTA”s board every month and we’ve met with their management team,” Raval said. “All we’re pretty much getting is, ‘thank you for your time.’ We don’t get feedback on whether they hear us.”