On November 29, 2017, Philadelphia Air Management Services (AMS) approved a permit that would allow SEPTA to begin work on its planned $26.8 million natural-gas power plant in the city’s Nicetown neighborhood. The Midvale Complex plant, which will be in the 4300 block of Wissahickon Avenue, will provide heat for the Midvale Bus Depot and power about one half of SEPTA’s regional rail lines.
Local environmentalists and community activists had fought for more than a year, continuing with a protest in front of City Hall, even while the AMS was approving the permit. Several council members asked for a full environmental study before the permit was approved, nevertheless, the AMS said that the plant would only be a minor source of pollution, and no additional studies were done.
SEPTA touts the plant as a way for the transportation authority to help fulfill its mission of environmental sustainability, claiming that natural gas burns cleaner than other fossil fuels. Critics point out that the natural gas extraction process is harmful to the environment. They will use Noresco, which is a National Certified Energy Savings company. Other initiatives include a solar power installation; SEPTA claims solar power was not feasible to use at the Midvale facility.
Councilwoman Cindy Bass issued a statement saying that the zip code surrounding the plant has “the highest rate of childhood asthma hospitalization and the third highest number of asthma cases in the city.” Several residents and activists claimed that SEPTA was engaging in environmental racism since the facility is in a low income, largely African American community of approximately 37,000. The only action left to protesters is to take the matter to court, with the argument that Pennsylvanians have a right to breathe clean air.
SEPTA’s natural gas plant will comply with all applicable federal and state environmental regulations.