Newark Delaware USA community activists stop power plant in their neighborhood - 2013-2014

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionPDF versionPDF version
Timing
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
6 June 2013 - 10 July 2014
06-JUN
2013
to
10-JUL
2014
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Newark, Delaware
Goals: 
The Newark Residents Against the Power Plant (NRAPP) is committed to stopping the construction of a 279 MW power plant proposed by The Data Centers, LLC on the University of Delaware Star Campus, because it will damage the environment locally and globally. (From their mission statement).
 

In 2013, Newark, Delaware, USA, was a town of 30,000 and home to the University of Delaware. Local citizens felt great concern about job creation to recover from the losses resulting from the worldwide financial crisis of 2007-2008, and they pressured their politicians to bring job creation opportunities to Delaware. In June of 2013, a representative of a company called The Data Centers, LLC, contacted local leaders of the Delaware Sierra Club asking for their support to build a data center to provide retail IT services on property owned by the University of Delaware. The data center project also included building a gas powered electricity generating plant, which they said was needed to power the data center reliably. This power plant was designed to produce two hundred seventy-nine megawatts of power, far more than the data center needed itself, and large enough to power five cities like Newark. The company argued it needed the large capacity to have redundant power to ensure the data center never lost power and it needed to sell the extra power capacity to make a profit. They planned to locate the center in the middle of Newark in close proximity to schools, neighborhoods, parks and daycare centers.

The Data Centers secretly developed this project with parts of the Newark city government and the University of Delaware up to June 2013. The University had already signed a seventy-five year lease with them for forty-three acres. The governor, Jack Markell, and US Senator Chris Coons, as well as President Patrick Harker of the University of Delaware, supported the project as a significant source of jobs, both in the construction stage and the ongoing operations afterwards. The Building and Construction Trades Council, a union group, came out in strong support for the project because of the promise of construction jobs.

Newark community members saw the power plant as a threat to the health of the community, and the Sierra Club leaders began organizing in the summer of 2013 to create a grassroots campaign and new community organization to stop the power plant portion of the project. At this stage of the campaign, almost nothing was known about the project and the first step involved urging interested residents to attend a City Council meeting on 10 June 2013 to ask questions about the project and request a community meeting to provide information. Organizers filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get information from city officials about the negotiations between the city, University, and The Data Centers.

At the City Council meeting on 22 July 2013, residents raised issues and concerns about the proposed power plant. One of the opposition leaders, Amy Roe, again asked for a community meeting, and the City Manager promised a public meeting when the city got the final site plans. Amy Roe wrote an essay arguing for more public disclosure about the proposal and raising concerns about the health risks of the power plant that the major local newspaper published on 8 August 2013. Finally, at the 12 August 2013 City Council meeting, the residents asked again for a public meeting, and the City Council agreed to hold one in September.

Throughout the summer of 2013, the organizers went door to door in the community around the proposed site to tell people about the power plant proposal and ask for their help fighting it.

The campaign took a name, Newark Residents Against the Power Plant (NRAPP), and launched a website, http://NoNewarkPowerPlant.org and social media presence on facebook.com as of 2 September 2013. They used these online platforms to promote events, share news and background information, publish essays, reprint news articles, and organize the campaign.

Four hundred people attended the public meeting on 4 September 2013 to listen to a presentation by the developer explaining the project and answering questions. Residents challenged the developer with their concerns and rejected his assertion that it was just a data center project, not a power plant.

NRAPP organized a demonstration, 21 September 2013, on a busy thoroughfare across from the university football stadium on a game day to take advantage of the large volume of traffic to spread the word about the power plant and their opposition to it.

The campaigners recruited support from their state representatives, John Kowalko and Paul Baumbach, to help defend their community’s interests, and the representatives organized a Town Hall, a public forum, for constituents to voice their views on 24 September 2013.

The Governor and his economic development director came out in strong support for the project and dismissed public input, saying, “The way it works is you don’t put every new development up to a public vote.”

The residents used community events like farmers markets for tabling to spread the word and recruit support. They held a demonstration during the University of Delaware Board of Trustees meeting on 3 October 2013 as the Board had the power to cancel the project. The campaign regularly held demonstrations when there were home football games during the fall to promote their opposition to the project.

NRAPP made the City of Newark and University of Delaware the primary targets in the campaign because the University owned the land and had the power to cancel the project, and the city also had the power to block it because of zoning restrictions or application inconsistencies. Local activists planned two threads of action to be executed simultaneously. One pressured the University to cancel the project by activating the faculty, staff, and students who live in the area and would be affected by the pollution produced; it referenced the environmental goals of the University that were in conflict with hosting a fossil fuel powered power plant. A second thread pressed the city government to protect the public health and challenge the project as not in compliance with zoning codes. The campaign used a petition drive to document the degree of opposition and continue to build further opposition. They delivered more than one thousand two hundred signatures on their petition to the City Council. Amy Roe, one of the campaign leaders, decided to run for mayor of Newark in the November of 2013 election. This created another forum for raising the issues and recruiting people who were complacent about the project.

The supporters of the power plant held a rally on 13 January 2014 to put pressure on City Council to approve the project as meeting the zoning requirements. NRAPP held a vigil 15 January 2014 with two hundred twenty participants. The campaign continued to recruit supporters and established an online ‘store’ to sell t-shirts to publicize support for their protest.

The city of Newark approved the project as meeting the zoning requirement of the power plant being an “accessory use” of the property 17 January 2014. The NRAPP and Delaware Audubon Society filed an appeal of the decision with the Newark Board of Adjustment 10 February 2014. On 19 March, the Board of Adjustment denied the appeal, and the NRAPP petitioned the Superior Court of Delaware to intervene, 27 May 2014.

The campaign recruited support from faculty, staff and students at the university making sure they knew the health risks and other issues that would affect them. The university community would be directly affected as many live close to the proposed site for the power plant. The Faculty Senate voted 43-0 at their meeting on 5 May 2014 to recommend that the administration not go forward with the project including a power plant. Students led demonstrations against the plant.

Through the spring of 2014, NRAPP continued to put pressure on the University of Delaware as hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and Newark community residents came to show their opposition to the power plant when the Board of Trustees held their meeting on 13 May 2014. Students presented the University president with one thousand five hundred signatures on a petition opposing the plant on 14 May and held a demonstration on campus 15 May.

Finally, an internal university working group with relevant expertise that was established in September of 2013 to evaluate the project’s environmental and economic impact on the community completed a report in July of 2014 and recommended against the project as inconsistent with university goals for the research site. The report was decisive in determining the final university decision.

On 10 July 2014, the University of Delaware announced it was cancelling the agreement with The Data Centers, LLC, ending the campaign with a victory for the community activists.

Research Notes
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Jamie Irwin, 05-APR-2015