By Karen Melton, Member, Southeastern Pennsylvania Group
Steam Loop/Co-generation Plant
In the September 2022 Sylvanian I shared an issue occurring in Philadelphia where the city-owned gas company, Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW), was attempting to convince some large customers who currently get their heat from a steam loop / co-generation plant that services customers throughout Center City to install new PGW gas boilers. Two customers we found out were considering the switch were the Amtrak William H. Gray III 30th Street Station and the Independence Mall National Park.
The steam loop is a 100-year-old system that over the years has transitioned from coal to oil to gas. The owner, Vicinity Energy, which operates the Philadelphia system as well as ‘district steam’ systems in a number of other cities, states that it plans to transition away from gas to renewable sources as it has already done in Boston.
Philadelphia environmental groups were opposed to seeing these large federally- constituted organizations replace a system that is expected to go green to install new gas infrastructure. Additionally, PGW must play a significant role in achieving Philadelphia’s stated goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Adding large new customers moves PGW in the opposite direction. Activists held meetings with both Amtrak and the National Park Service, delivered sign-on letters and petitions, and wrote letters to the editor. The controversy has been extensively covered by NPR State Impact Pennsylvania.
In November, Amtrak announced they have revised their plans and will remain on the steam loop! Amtrak has also adopted a sustainability goal of net zero emissions by 2045.
After celebrating and giving kudos to Amtrak, we will continue efforts to influence the National Park Service starting with the new superintendent just appointed to the Independence Mall National Park.
LNG Task Force
In the October Sylvanian I wrote about the Philadelphia LNG Export Task Force established by the state legislature in 2022 with a directive to examine and make recommendations “involved with making the Port of Philadelphia an LNG export terminal.” The Task Force met three times in 2023, with the final hearing in August in Chester, PA. This hearing was heavily attended by groups and individuals opposed to an LNG buildout in Southeastern PA.
The Task Force issued its final report in November. Given that the Task Force was almost entirely composed of fossil fuel industry proponents, it is not surprising that the report tries to make the case that an LNG plant and export facility in Southeastern Pennsylvania is a good idea. Some of the reasons presented: there is current ship traffic on the Delaware River and Bay waterways with traffic control and safety protocols already in place, and a lot of construction and ancillary jobs will be required to build the facility with permanent jobs once it’s in operation. There are also some magical thinking arguments – most notably that LNG is a great way to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change.
There is a minority report appendix by Pennsylvania State Legislator and Task Force member Joe Hohenstein, who lays out the ‘makes no sense’ case. Some of the reasons detailed are: there’s no place to put it, neither the Port of Philadelphia or Chester has an appropriate location; the LNG that would be produced by the many new facilities proposed in the U.S. (a number already approved) as well as those being built by other countries, exceeds forecasts for future LNG market demand; a major dredging project would be required to deepen the Delaware; the Delaware Valley already exceeds federal air quality standards for ozone and particulates, and Chester is already an environmentally overburdened community.
Hohenstein ends by recommending “against any further resources being committed to investigating an LNG facility in Philadelphia or elsewhere in Southeastern Pennsylvania.”
This blog was included as part of the December 2023 Sylvanian newsletter. Please click here to check out more articles from this edition!