SEPTA Gas-Fired Power Plant Update

Karen Melton,

Opposition continues against a planned gas-fired power plant at SEPTA’s Midvale Complex at Wissahickon and Roberts avenues. Area residents, health professionals and faith and environmental groups fear the plant would add a further burden of pollution to nearby neighborhoods, including Nicetown, North Philadelphia and East Falls. 

After voting in March to authorize the construction of the $26.8 million, 8.6-megawatt facility, intended to power half its Regional Rail lines, SEPTA still needs a permit from Air Management Services.

AMS, a division of the Philadelphia Health Department, held a hearing on the permit on June 27. About 40 attendees packed the room at the Panati Playground and testimony continued for more than two hours, all in opposition to the plant. 

The permit application details expected plant emissions, including: 

  • 21.7 tons per year of nitrogen oxides (NOx). 
  • 27 tons per year of carbon monoxide (CO). 
  • 16.3 tons per year of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). 

These are the pollutants that are required to be reported, and are known to contribute to the formation of smog, which can cause or aggravate health problems including asthma, emphysema and bronchitis.

Ultrafine particles will also be emitted, but are currently not regulated, and do not have to be reported; however, there is a growing body of evidence about the health risks associated with UFPs, which may be released at high levels by gas-fired power plants. 

Noting that more than 37,000 people live within a mile of the proposed plant, opponents maintain that community health should be the primary consideration.

They also point to a number of discrepancies in SEPTA’s arguments for the plant: SEPTA calls it a CHP (Combined Heat and Power) plant, even though only 35 percent of the heat byproduct will be utilized; SEPTA claims the contract for the plant, which commits to buying gas for 20 years, will be cost-effective without considering long-term gas-vs.-renewable energy pricing; and SEPTA makes claims about reducing greenhouse emissions that opponents consider significantly overblown. Finally, SEPTA’s plan to build the Nicetown plant, which it describes as proof of concept with potentially more such plants to come, takes our transit agency in the opposite direction of Mayor Kenney’s recently announced commitment to 100 percent renewable energy. 

It is unclear how long it will take AMS to process and respond to the many arguments presented at the June hearing. So there is still time to make your voice heard. We ask that you call and/or email Councilwoman Cindy Bass (, 215-685-9182), who represents the neighborhood, Mayor Jim Kenney (, 215-686-2181) and Health Commissioner Thomas Farley (215-686-5200).

To learn more or get involved go to Let’s keep pushing for a sustainable transit future that does not include any gas-fired power plants.

Karen Melton is a 350 Philly volunteer.