SALEM TWP. — A surge of public uproar over truck traffic in Newport Township and the surrounding area has signaled the beginning of construction on the Caithness Moxie Freedom Power Plant in Salem Township.
Caithness Energy, from New York state, is a power producing partner with Vienna, Virginia-based Moxie Energy LLC, to develop, construct and operate the Caithness Moxie Freedom Generating System. The system will produce more than 1,000 megawatts of energy as part of the PJM Interconnection system, a competitive wholesale electricity market and electricity grid system.
“This is a backbone facility for the power pool,” said Ross Ain, executive vice president for Caithness. “It’s not really a local supplier of energy.”
Energy from the plant will power 900,000 homes in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.
The construction on the plant began in December; Phase I, or “civil work,” which includes the excavation and filling in of “frost or freeze resistant” soil — also the cause of many complaints on trucks from residents — is expected be finished by the end of March or early April, “weather permitting,” officials said.
The plant, as a whole, will look to be up and running by May 2018.
Ain said the investment on the project is “a little bit less than $1 billion, which including equipment costs, labor costs, financial costs, bonding costs.” Payroll is estimated to be $80 million of the investment, he said.
“One of the reasons this is a good market is that there is are a lot of skilled labor in the market,” said Mitch Garber, vice president of site management, noting the Marcellus Shale gas boom in Wyoming, Susquehanna and Bradford counties in Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier.
Over the course of the construction, Garber said the project will average 250 jobs with 600 jobs at it’s peak. There will be 25 “really skilled” permanent jobs alongside a “highly automated computer system,” he said.
“It’s not just people going around with clipboard,” Ain added. “They know how to work computers, operate sophisticated equipment.”
Representatives of the Pittsburgh-based Marcellus Shale Coalition lauded the project for expanding the local workforce.
“Expanding natural gas use opportunities - especially among Pennsylvania’s power sector and manufacturers - supports good-paying local jobs, provides significant energy savings for consumers, and further enhances our environment,” spokeswoman Erica Clayton Wright said.
The area is ripe for the power plant because the Transco Leidy system — which is where the plant will receive the shale gas — runs feet away from the turbines and thanks to the nearby PPL plant, high voltage energy lines run through the nearly 100 acre property.
“There are literally three pipelines a thousand yards away,” Ain said.
“The power plant lot is 58.7 acres (but the plant itself will be on 20 acres),” Garber said. “The switchyard (PPL substation/drainage basin) is 45.6 acres.”
According to Steve Kratz, senior account executive, the plant is located “within three miles” of the PPL Nuclear Power Plant, also in Salem Township. The nuclear power plant will be a competitor, also running on the PJM grid, he said.
“We are the owners of the project,” Ain said.
Gemma Power Systems LLC, of Glastonbury, Connecticut, procured the engineering contract (EPC) for the project from Caithness Energy.
Gemma will subcontract out, most notably to Don A. Bower Inc., out of Berwick.
“Bower in turn … is responsible for the safe bringing of fill,” Ain said.
Because of need for the ground to hold the weight of the GE two 7HA.02 gas turbines, local fill — which includes quarry and mine waste — has been needed. The fill was contracted to be received from the Newport Aggregate quarry, which will have trucks taking the Lee section of Newport Township, across the Mocanaqua-Shickshinny bridge, down Route 11 and finally through the curvy Mingle Inn Road.
“We’re bringing in a large amount of engineered fill (to support the weight of the turbines),” Ain said.
State Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Butler Township, encourages residents in her district to be patient during Phase I, as it’s almost completed.
“These four weeks have been the worst of it,” Tohill said. “Don Bower immediately addressed that (residents’ concerns) … this week we haven’t have had any complaints.”