DEP approves air quality plan for Penn State’s West Campus steam plant conversion

Penn State scored an environmental permit Monday that clears the way for the university’s planned conversion of its West Campus steam plant.

The plan to change the plant’s fuel source from coal to natural gas meets federal and state air quality regulations, the state Department of Environmental Protection has ruled.

Penn State applied in October 2012 for air quality approval for the project, which includes construction of two new, natural gas boilers, modifying two existing boilers and installing two diesel tanks.

“The department has done a very careful and detailed review of this application during the past 15 months to be sure that the proposed project meets the department’s” requirements and air quality guidelines, Marcus Kohl, a DEP regional director, said in a statement.

State College officials said Monday the move likely clears the way for the project to begin. The borough Planning Commission approved a final land development plan for the site in November, pending the DEP permit approval.

Ford Stryker, associate vice president of the university’s Office of Physical Plant, praised the DEP decision.

“We did receive the approval permit today and we are pleased, since it will allow us to proceed with converting the West Campus steam plant from burning coal to cleaner burning natural gas,” he said in a statement. “The conversion work will occur over the next two years.”

The plant, which sits at the intersection of Burrowes Road and West College Avenue, is being converted to natural gas to meet federal air guidelines going into effect at the start of 2016.

A group of State College residents have been critical of the plan, first over concerns about a 12-inch, high-pressure pipeline being installed to serve the plant, and later over safety related to the plant itself.

Penn State eventually agreed to alter the route of the line, originally set to run through the borough’s Highlands neighborhood, and instead use an on-campus route. The move cost Penn State an extra $9.8 million.

DEP officials heard additional concerns from residents at a public hearing in October, including questions about emissions from the plant and its proximity to downtown State College.

Officials from the agency said they responded to 40 written comments submitted at the meeting. Responses to the comments, and more information about the permit, can be found on the DEP’s website.

DEP officials said the proposed emission levels of air contaminants from the plant satisfy safety requirements, and that the application met other requirements.

“In some areas, our plan approval application review exceeded state and federal requirements,” Kohl said in a statement.

Before granting the permit, DEP sent a draft to the Environmental Projection Agency for review, and the EPA agreed with the decision to approve the project, according to DEP officials.

Work on the pipeline that will service the plant is underway. Penn State officials previously said they expect that part of the project to be done by August.

The pipeline now will originate at a current Columbia line near Porter Road, travel to and along University Drive, cross and travel along Park Avenue, turn south on Shortlidge Road, proceed to Curtin Road, and travel along Burrowes Road and, finally, along an alley to connect at the steam plant.