Power Plant Fueling Goodwill


Salem Township business opens with $20G donation to fire company

SALEM TWP. — Owners of the Caithness Freedom Generating Station celebrated the opening of the new gas electric plant here Thursday with a $20,000 donation to the Salem Township Volunteer Fire Co.

And Caithness Energy will donate that amount every year for the next 19 years, plus increase its donation by $500 every year, said Ross D. Ain, executive vice president.

“We appreciate the support and patience of the community,” Ain told a small group of firefighters and officials. “I know we tried that patience during the commissioning process, but hopefully we’re beyond that, and will be a good neighbor from now on.”

The plant will provide cleaner electricity and 25 jobs, he said.

New fire squad

The donation will pay the fire company’s annual payments on a new $600,000 customized vehicle that combines the fire company’s engine and rescue vehicles, said Lt. Joshua Switzer.

That means that the company needs one less driver when it responds to scenes that need both capacities, he said. That’s important because getting enough firefighters to run two vehicles can be difficult when calls come in during the day, when many volunteers are at work.

It carries the same amount of water as the old engine — 1,250 gallons — and has the same amount of pumping ability, he said.

But it can hold eight volunteers instead of just six. It also holds the Jaws of Life, ropes, stabilizing jacks and other equipment.

“Without (Caithness’) help, we wouldn’t be able to afford this apparatus,” Switzer said.

The energy company has committed more than $800,000 to various community improvement projects so far, including $15,000 previously given to the fire company, Ain said.

Taxes and tech

The plant will be a major taxpayer. The Times Leader recently reported that with an assessed value of $42.2 million, it’s the sixth-most valuable piece of property in Luzerne County. It’s slated to pay $752,237 in taxes to the school district, township and county. Plant officials say they haven’t yet seen the assessment or decided whether to appeal.

Ain said the cutting-edge technology used at the billion-dollar plant helps make cleaner and less expensive electricity.

The plant produces 1,029 megawatts — enough to serve about 1 million people, Ain said. That makes it a major resource in the regional electrical market, he said.

Company officials chose Salem Township as its site because Pennsylvania is now a major source of natural gas, he said. The plant was able to hook into two natural gas lines here for fuel. The location was also near a major power line with excess capacity, which meant Caithness didn’t have to build any new lines to transmit its electricity to the grid.

Ain: Clean power

The inexpensive power means the plant can underbid earlier, less clean electrical technologies, such as coal-fired plants and older gas plants, pushing them offline, he said.

Thirty years ago, gas plants ran at about 33 to 34 percent efficiency, meaning that for every three units of fuel, the plant produced one unit of power, he said.

The new plant is 60 percent efficient, drastically decreasing energy and emissions, he said. Compared to the old plants, it will release 3.2 million less tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide per year.

It also uses new dry cooling technology, meaning it uses 95 percent less water than the old plants, Ain said. Seven garden hoses could supply all the water it needs — 43 gallons per minute — he said.

Less noise

More than 2 million man hours went into building the plant, which was mostly worked on by locals, Ain said.

Now that it’s online, about 25 people will be working there at jobs that, with benefits, are worth about $100,000 each per year, said Tom Copus, director of operations. Half of the employees were hired locally; the others moved to the community, he said. Many of them are veterans who learned about operating power plants in the military, he said.

The township had received complaints from neighbors about noise from the plant as it first powered up, supervisors said at township meetings. But they haven’t heard any complaints in weeks, said Supervisor Rick Talanca.

Plant spokesman Steve Kratz said the noise came as the plant was forced to release steam without passing it through the turbines as part of the start-up process.

Now that everything is online, it should be quieter, he said.

The traffic light installed at Mingle Inn Road during construction, which began in 2015, has been removed.

“We’ll continue to work with the township closely, and with local residents closely,” Kratz said.

Ain thanked the township supervisors, staff and fire company for cooperating with the energy company as they built the plant.

“We’re delighted to be up and running, and an active member of the local community,” he said.

Christopher Pavlick, who came on behalf of Rep. Tarah Toohil, said the legislator sent her thanks to the company for making sure the fire company has the training and resources it needs.

Susan Schwartz covers the Berwick area. She can be reached at 570-387-1234 ext. 1306 and susan.schwartz@pressenterprise.net, or followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/PESueSchwartz

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