On a warm Wednesday evening in May, a school cafeteria in Nicetown was filled with members of the community. They’d all come to hear the 350 Philadelphia team explain the proposed gas power plant at SEPTA’s nearby Midvale Bus Depot.

We’d read about this plan last fall, in articles by State Impact, the Inquirer and PlanPhilly.

Some in the local sustainability circle applauded this project because of the touted efficiency of a CHP (combined heat & power) project, where the heat generated by burning fossil fuels is used to, typically, heat water.

We, however, saw this as a build out of fracked gas infrastructure, adding to our dependency of this substance that’s toxic when it’s mined (fracking), toxic when it’s transported (pipelines) and toxic when it’s consumed.

So we began going to SEPTA board meetings, even spoke at some of them, met with SEPTA management, began speaking with people in the neighborhood, built a website with some of our research and a petition, and yesterday, organized the above community forum.


Speakers were Zak Powers, a teacher at Wissahickon Charter School; Mitch Chanin of 350Philadelphia, and Natasha Bagwe of Physicians for Social Responsibility in Philadelphia.

From the media, we noticed WHYY & NBC 10, with representation from Tioga United, the 13th Ward, Friends of Fernhill Park, Southwest Germantown Neighbors, Allegheny West Foundation, the Transport Worker’s Union, the Penn Knox Neighborhood Association, Citizens Climate Lobby, Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light, Veterans for Clean Air, and more!

The Q&A period was lively and the networking that happened afterward was dynamite. A sampling of the questions raised & answered as we talked into the night…

  • Does SEPTA have an industrial hygienist? Or someone in occupational health? On the Board?
  • Who is measuring air quality?
  • Are they storing any natural gas on site?
  • Is there an alternate location, if this proposal is withdrawn? Or prevented from building in Nicetown?
  • What happens at the end of the 20 year contract between SEPTA and Noresco? why a 20 year contract?
  • Is there a pipeline? Do we know the location? How would this affect the particulate matter and relate to the energy hub?
  • What would SEPTA pay Noresco for the electricity generated by the plant?
    • There is a fixed rate for 5 years. It’s not clear, but we do know that the price will not be fixed after the initial 5 years. Another response: That sounds like an adjustable rate mortgage to me!  (Audience laughed)
  • Has SEPTA considered a renewable energy plant instead?
    • They looked at  solar panels 5 years ago. The cost of solar has dropped 50% since then.
  • Why are they so keen on a natural gas plant?
  • I live near here on Mannheim Street. What SEPTA is doing sound’s like environmental racism.  We’ve had our share in Nicetown. Montgomery County / Lower Merion tried to store their buses with their diesel fumes here a few years ago, tried and failed. Now SEPTA wants to build a gas power plant near 3 schools! They did not have the courtesy to talk to us. How arrogant. I see children going by everyday with asthma. We need to have meetings about this in every school and community meeting place.
  • Why is SEPTA not coming out to talk with residents?
  • Is there in independent impact study? A financial impact study?
Questions? Contact the team of volunteers at 350philadelphia@gmail.com.

Originally written for 350Philadelphia, and published on their blog. -meenal