Towantic Power Plant Resurrected


Nearly 15 years ago, the Town of Middlebury and some of its citizens loudly, and in some cases with legal action, protested the building of a 550-megawatt power plant next to Oxford Airport. The location placed it within 500 feet of the Middlebury town line and very close to Middlebury homes in the Washington Drive area. For years, no work was done on the plant.

In the meantime, new project owners entered the picture – General Electric, manufacturers of the turbines to be used in the power plant, and a company named Competitive Power Ventures (CPV). CPV wants to build an 805-MW natural gas-fueled power plant and is in the process of getting the project permits updated accordingly. At its open house at Oxford High School Aug. 5, CPV provided information on the current project, which the company refers to as an “energy center.”

Local opposition this time has sprung up in the form of a Facebook page, Citizens Against CPV Oxford Energy Plant. The page urges readers to go to a petition site and sign a petition opposing building the power plant in Oxford. At press time, 832 people had signed the petition.

Statements on the petition site include, “This highly-polluting 805 megawatt plant will impact the environment, the community, and the health of our children … If built, the plant will affect neighborhoods up to 2-3 miles away with vibration, noise, and 30 months of heavy construction traffic. Air pollution will directly impact homes within a 10-mile radius … At its peak, the plant will consume over 80 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. When natural gas is low, as it was this past winter, the plant will run on fuel oil … it will take one tanker truck full of fuel per hour, every hour to run the plant.”

CPV spokesperson Will Mitchell said Wednesday the company likes to hear from all the members of the community. “We have an incredibly strong record across the country of working with local communities and look forward to meeting and working with folks,” he said. Mitchell said Oxford isn’t the only beneficiary of the project. The increased economic activity will benefit the entire area. “We’ve seen in other communities that large regions benefit from the construction and operation of these facilities,” he said. In sales tax alone, the state will gain $20 million.

Introducing a new power system to the area will provide residents with a more robust power system and more reliable electricity. As for air pollution, he said both the state and federal government monitor the emissions to assure the plant has the lowest emissions possible. He said health and public safety are always considered.

In addition, this project is going to replace older, much more polluting facilities in the region that run on coal and oil. As those plants are being phased out, air quality is improving. The significant improvement since 1994 is attributable to the change-out from oil and coal-powered technology to new technologies. This project will have 63 percent efficiency, Mitchell said, compared to the 20 percent efficiency of older technologies.

Asked if the plant would have had to switch to higher-polluting oil (its backup fuel) last winter, Mitchel said the project isn’t far enough along to have worked out proprietary agreements on its natural gas supply, but being adjacent to a natural gas pipeline as it is in Oxford, “puts us in a very good spot to receive natural gas.”

He also noted there were two, and perhaps three, polar vortexes, last winter. “Most meterologists would tell you that was a unique event,” he said. And he said the increase to 805 MW from 550 MW is not cause for alarm. “Advancements in technology have allowed more megawatts to be created more efficiently. The plant itself is improved on the prior model so we can get more megawatts,” he said. “This is better for the community.”

Middlebury officials did not attend the Aug. 5 open house, but State Sen. Joan Hartley (R-15) was there. Hartley, who opposed the power plant project when it first was proposed 15 years ago, said she wasn’t yet ready to take a position on the updated proposal. She said she was in the information-gathering stage.

Oxford First Selectman George Temple attended and said, “I think most people in Oxford are for it because of the benefit.” A CPV poster listed Oxford’s benefits thus far as $900,000 for a fire truck, $400,000 for a water pump and $800,000 for tax stabilization, all in 2007. In 2009 and 2010, CPV gave Oxford $1.175 million in lieu of taxes; in 2011, that payment was $500,000. Temple said the town will receive $6.5 million when CPV breaks ground on the project.

Middlebury First Selectman Edward B. St. John spoke of the power plant project at the Aug. 4, 2014, Board of Selectmen meeting and said, “We will fight the fight. We fought it before and we will fight it again.” He did not attend the Aug. 5 open house. Ray Pietrorazio, who selectmen appointed as liaison to the airport and the power plant project, also did not attend the open house.

Most of the people who were there union members who drove in from as far away as Preston, Conn., to check on job opportunities. The project is expected to last 30 months and employ 300 to 500 workers. CPV spokesperson Steven Sullivan said the company hires union workers for all its jobs. The company expects to break ground on the project in the second half of 2015.

Temple said of the project, “I think it’s going to be good for the town. It’s in an industrial area, and once it gets in most people won’t notice it’s even there.”


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