The True Cost of the Proposed Killingly Energy Center
I am looking forward to the coming month of June, and not just because it brings warm weather and renewed outdoor activities. It also begins the nesting season for several species of bats (more on bats from DEEP), four of which are state-listed as threatened, endangered or special concern in an equally threatened forest outside Killingly in Eastern Connecticut. This is the proposed site of NTE’s Killingly Energy Center, a controversial fracked gas plant that is not needed for Connecticut’s projected electrical supply. June 1 marks the beginning of a 2-month time period that protects the bats while nesting and rearing their young. When and if the plant is built, the construction will permanently destroy that nesting area.
The gas plant must be fed, and that will require a 2.8 mile pipeline branching from an existing pipeline running through Pomfret. This branch has not yet been approved by DEEP but, if built, it would run through fourteen wetland areas, as well as the Pomfret Audubon Center and the Wyndham Land Trust. These lands are fragile, and, in fact, DEEP has been working to restore the Wyndham Marsh, work likely to be undone forever if this proposal is approved. This gas pipeline expansion would destroy habitat for several state-listed endangered and special concern species including the American bittern, Northern long-eared bat, Eastern box turtle, and wood turtle. It would also endanger the Northern long-eared owl, which has been sighted and photographed on the pipeline path itself, and is known to nest in the area. (See Sierra Club Killingly Comments June 2020, Sierra Club Killingly Comments October 2020, Sierra Club Comments January 2021)
People who live in the rural towns of Eastern Connecticut love our forests and wildlife. We stop to help the turtles cross the road and even nail up handmade road signs to mark turtle crossings. We do not want to lose the very reason we choose to live here.
Further, this gas plant will endanger more than our land and animals—it will impact the health of our residents! There are four schools, a child care center, and a senior residential facility within a mile of the proposed site. Emissions from the dirty fracked gas plant and methane leaks from the pipeline will contribute to poor air quality, making it difficult for Connecticut to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions as required by law. These pollutants are linked to many chronic diseases, including asthma and other respiratory illnesses, heart disease, and cancers. Asthma rates in Connecticut are already high, and Killingly has one of the highest rates of asthma-related hospitalizations and emergency room visits per 10,000 population. A second dirty gas plant will only increase the air pollution, and our children are likely to be the ones to suffer most from exposure over years.
Now, there may be economic benefits to Killingly from allowing a second gas plant to be built on the shores of Lake Alexander, but there are costly disadvantages as well. Those costs cannot be calculated as easily as taxes, but they add up quickly and last for decades. These are the costs of our children’s health, our clean air and water, and our wildlife. Is this a fair exchange? A recent Harvard report and RMI state by state breakdown shows that air pollution from burning fossil fuels in Connecticut buildings led to an estimated 318 early deaths and $3.567 billion in health impact costs in just the year 2017. When you think about the cumulative impacts, it is staggering.
To allow this project to go forward is to invite environmental destruction and a public health threat that will last for decades. The energy produced will not be used in Connecticut—we already export almost 30 percent of the energy produced here to other states. We pay for these plants in our high electric bills and with our health. Connecticut’s air quality is one of the worst in the country.
I urge the people of Eastern Connecticut to speak up. Tell Governor Lamont that we need to put our children’s health above the fossil fuel expansion that goes against his own goals for our climate. Tell DEEP to stand up for what they say they believe in, because we do not want the future that further gas build out will bring. Tell town officials, in Killingly and beyond, to consider the true costs of fossil fuels in their decision-making, for the good of us all.
Susan Eastwood is Chapter Chair of Sierra Club Connecticut.