Rural Ohio Couple Laments Disruptions from Gas Plant Construction
Thanks to fracking, cheap natural gas is replacing coal to generate electricity. 173 new gas-fired power generators are in the works across the country, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration.
In Ohio, the past few years have brought planning and construction of ten new gas plants. For one couple in eastern Ohio's Guernsey County, it's also brought plenty of headaches.
In the summer of 2019, Caithness Energy started building one of the largest gas plants of its kind in the country. There’s already a pipeline that will run natural gas from Pennsylvania and Ohio to the site.
The Guernsey Power Station will generate enough power for 1.5 million homes. But the Youngs don’t want to live next door to it.
Kevin and Marlene Young built their house in the country, so they had space for the racehorses they train.
But now big trucks drive past the house all day long. The farm field next door has become an industrial construction site. The air is often filled with dust. There’s a thick layer of it on their new truck. Like others who live nearby, they say the construction has caused cracks in their walls.
The Youngs have stopped training their horses--even putting them on respirators. Marlene falls apart when she talks about her best horse, Creekside Pete. "I had to sell him to get him out of here because of the stuff going on," she said through tears.
Meanwhile, many people in the area see the new gas plant as hope for the region’s future. When Caithness came here in 2016, Norm Blanchard, economic development director for the region, was thrilled by the idea of a $1.6 billion plant. “For us, it was almost like a, you know, a carnival coming to town," Blanchard said.
The company is spending millions to prepare the site, and has promised $42 million dollars to the local school system over thirty years.
It promised 1,000 construction jobs. When it opens in 2022, it will employ 30 high tech workers. Blanchard wishes it was more. But he’s not complaining. As he stands along the highway, looking at the huge construction site, he says all the cranes here are like a billboard for economic development. "Something like this, to be able to locate it here puts you on the map," he said.
The poverty rate here is high. Environmental attorney Dave Altman says many communities jump at the money and jobs offered by deep-pocketed energy companies. "Local governments, somewhat understandably, at times will blindly accept promises and really operate in denial of the collateral damage to the people who are left behind," Altman said.
Kevin and Marlene Young say they haven’t gotten help from the government, on any level. There are no local zoning codes or land use restrictions. And while Ohio has strict laws ensuring wind turbines aren’t built too close to homes, the state has no such requirement for gas plants.
At the federal level, the Trump administration removed a rule in Ohio’s federal air quality plan in December that protects people from environmental nuisances like dust and odors that endanger health and property.
In an email, Ohio EPA said it still retains authority, and will enforce the nuisance rule.
The power plant has air permits from the agency with limits for pollutants like volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter. Ohio EPA said pollution levels outside the facility won’t cause harm.
But the Youngs don’t want to wait to find out. They've retained a lawyer and Kevin Young says, "I’d just as soon get us a little trailer or something, and clear out of this whole place.”