December 19, 2014

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Lorain County landowners learn about planned natural gas pipeline

NRG Energy Inc. official Alan Sawyer explains proposed natural gas pipeline plans to Carolyn Reinders, of Carlisle Township, on Wednesday evening. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

NRG Energy Inc. official Alan Sawyer explains proposed natural gas pipeline plans to Carolyn Reinders, of Carlisle Township, on Wednesday evening. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

GRAFTON — The coal-fired NRG Power Plant in Avon Lake will close if it doesn’t convert to natural gas.

That was the response of Alan Sawyer, NRG Energy Inc. director of asset management, when asked about the fate of the plant if a natural gas pipeline isn’t built. He spoke during a Wednesday night open house in Grafton.

NRG officials are obtaining easement rights from landowners across the county to build a 20-mile, 24-inch pipeline which requires a 50-foot permanent easement for operation and maintenance.

The steel line, which would be buried at a minimum depth of three feet in the ground, or four feet on farmland, would extend south from the power plant to an existing natural gas pipeline southwest of Grafton owned and operated by Dominion East Ohio.

A map shows the proposed plan for a natural gas pipeline spanning the length of Lorain County.

A map shows the proposed plan for a natural gas pipeline spanning the length of Lorain County.

Sawyer said the line is a necessity because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandated the power plant must institute an array of pollution control devices by April 2015 if it is to remain coal fired. Previous owner Genon Energy announced in 2013 such a mandate wasn’t economically feasible and the plant would close.

Sawyer said NRG purchased the property after a merger with Genon and came up with a plan to convert it to natural gas. Although Sawyer declined to say how much it would cost to build the pipeline, he said it’s cheaper “by hundreds of millions of dollars” than instituting the pollution control devices.

The power plant, which was the largest polluter of air in Lorain County according to previous Chronicle-Telegram reports, will be much cleaner once the conversion to gas is made, Sawyer said.

Ohio has the second-highest death rate from overall power plant emissions, according to the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental watchdog that sued the EPA for tougher mercury emission standards.

“Natural gas is a much cleaner-burning fuel with much less pollution and environmental impact,” Sawyer said, adding that mercury and heavy metal emissions will be eliminated.

Jim Plas, a third-generation farmer in southern Lorain County, said the pipeline would travel along the property line of his and his brother’s farmland.

“It’s a potential time bomb,” Plas said.

Plas said he talked with an attorney who said the $6 to $12 per foot he’s been offered isn’t enough — and $30 a foot is more reasonable.

“What’s it going to do for me?” Plas asked. “I can’t get gas off of it. Once it’s there I can farm it, but I can’t sell it off for houses, put trees on it or a fence on it.”

NRG officials didn’t comment on what they are offering landowners, but they did say the potential for explosions are few and far between. Kevin Frederick, a design engineer working with NRG, said homes along Royalton Road, and in many parts of Lorain County, already are served by high-pressure gas lines.

But that may not ease the minds of those who have read news reports of deadly gas line explosions. In 2010 a California explosion killed eight people, injured dozens and destroyed 38 homes, resulting in criminal charges against the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. for violations of the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act of 1968, according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Third generation Grafton farmer Jim Plas reviews maps of the proposed pipeline plans on Wednesday.

Third generation Grafton farmer Jim Plas reviews maps of the proposed pipeline plans on Wednesday.

According to news reports, federal inspectors said the utility failed to inspect older pipelines in its systems that were subject to pressure surges. PG&E pleaded not guilty last week to 28 counts of safety violations and lying to government investigators after the explosion.

Frederick said explosions he’s read about usually involve older lines that were not equipped with the latest technologies, which include durable pipe coatings, electrical currents that deter erosion and X-ray inspections of pipe welds. He said NRG will adhere to rigorous safety standards.

Carolyn Reinders, of Twin Creek Farms in Carlisle Township, is worried she won’t be able to lease portions of her farmland once the pipeline goes through.

“Looking at a bunch of maps doesn’t tell me anything,” she said. “Nobody’s agreed to anything yet because we just don’t know what it all means.”

Sawyer said once easements are granted, landowners cannot build structures or plant trees, but they can farm or build hard surfaces like patios on the easement.

Avon resident Ellen Braatz, who has lived on 7½ acres on Case Road for 40 years, said she doesn’t like the idea of living close to a high-pressure gas line. She also doesn’t like that decades-old trees will be removed to make way for it.

“It’s certainly not worth going through the back of my property for that,” said Braatz, who was offered $12 per lineal foot.

Sawyer said NRG has the option to take land under eminent domain, but it will take that path only as a last resort.

“Our goal is to not have to use eminent domain,” Sawyer said. “We’ve talked to every landowner on the map, we’ve contacted them all, and we’re trying to figure out how to get their minds at ease.”

Avon Lake resident Ron Kovach Jr. attended the open house to learn more about how the project will keep the power plant open. Kovach does not have land affected by the pipeline.

“I’m just hoping to see the plant continue operating,” he said. “It will be good for the community, tax base and schools.”

Sawyer said about 120 landowners, who own 200 parcels, will be affected by the project.

Contact Jon Wysochanski at 329-7123 or jwysochanski@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonWysochanski. 

Pipeline Project

  • A second open house to discuss a proposed natural gas pipeline is 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. today at Tom’s Country Place, 3442 Stoney Ridge Road, Avon.