Politics

What to learn about a deliberate pure fuel ‘peaker’ plant in Mass.


This week’s new local weather report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change could be very clear that the world must cease constructing new fossil gas infrastructure instantly. In truth, to restrict warming to 1.5 levels Celsius, nations have to actively decommission a number of the oil, fuel and coal infrastructure that already exists.

Massachusetts additionally has sturdy local weather legal guidelines and has dedicated to hitting “net zero” emissions by 2050. So why, in 2022, is the state permitting the development of a brand new pure fuel and diesel-fired energy plant in Peabody?

Project opponents say plans for the so-called “peaker” plant are antithetical to the state’s targets, and hat the utility group behind the challenge has not been clear of their proceedings.

But work on the plant has continued regardless of the protests, and challenge managers say the power will likely be up and working by 2023.

Whether you’re acquainted with this proposed energy plant and have questions, otherwise you’re listening to about it for the primary time, right here’s what it’s essential to know:

What is a “peaker” plant?

A “peaker” plant is a facility that solely activates throughout instances of peak electrical energy demand. They are inclined to function just a few hundred hours a yr, and infrequently are older, extra polluting amenities.

Peaker vegetation function in a distinct power market than the standard energy vegetation that produce the majority of the electrical energy utilized in New England. Those energy amenities — just like the Mystic Generating Station or Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant — receives a commission by the grid operator, ISO New England, for the electrical energy they produce.

Peaker vegetation, in contrast, make most of their cash by being “on call,” prepared to fireside up and feed electrical energy into the grid with minimal discover when demand is highest.

A rendering of the proposed Peabody Peaker Plant. (Courtesy of The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company)
A rendering of the proposed Peabody Peaker Plant. (Courtesy of The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company)

What is the Peabody peaker plant?

Technically known as Project 2015A, the Peabody peaker plant is a proposed 55 megawatt pure fuel and diesel fuel-burning energy plant.

The plant, which is able to price about $85 million to construct, will sit on a small plot of land close to two present fuel and oil-fired peaking energy vegetation.

The new facility could have a 90-foot smoke stack geared up with the newest in sound and air air pollution mitigation applied sciences, making it quieter and cleaner than the opposite two vegetation. It will use present fuel pipelines and electrical substation infrastructure, however it would require a small fuel compressor on web site.

When it runs, it would primarily burn pure fuel. But it would have the flexibility to change to low-sulfur diesel gas ought to fuel change into unavailable.

The Peabody peaker is permitted to run a most of 1,250 hours yearly, however will most likely function a lot lower than that. It’s onerous to foretell precisely how typically ISO New England will ask to show it on, however the utility behind the plant estimates it would run about 239 hours per yr in the course of the subsequent few years, after which slowly lower after that as battery know-how improves and Massachusetts legal guidelines limiting greenhouse fuel emissions kick in.

With a 55-megawatt output, the plant didn’t require a full environmental overview, although opponents have requested the state for one.

Who is constructing this plant?

The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company, higher generally known as MMWEC (pronounced EM-wick) is a nonprofit quasi-state company that works on behalf of 20 municipal utilities. Often known as municipal mild vegetation or “munis,” these small utilities serve particular cities or cities. Unlike bigger investor-owned utilities like National Grid or Eversource, munis don’t have to generate a revenue, and so they can personal and function the facility vegetation that generate electrical energy for his or her clients.

Fourteen munis initially signed on to the Peabody challenge, although two — Holyoke Gas and Electric and the Chicopee Municipal Lighting Plant — backed out of their contracts in April 2021.

Who opposes the challenge?

In the previous couple of years, a broad coalition of environmentalists, public well being officers, native residents and elected officers have come out in opposition to the peaker plant.

Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren say they oppose the development of any new fossil gas vegetation, and Attorney General Maura Healey’s workplace has repeatedly raised considerations about air high quality, environmental justice and the shortage of group enter.

Many native politicians and state legislators have additionally come out in opposition to it.

Breathe Clean North Shore, Massachusetts Climate Action Network, Community Action Works, 350Mass, the Sierra Club of Massachusetts, the Environmental League of Massachusetts, GreenRoots, Extinction Rebellion and plenty of different environmental teams oppose the plant, too.

Mary Klug holds up a sign saying "No Peaker Plant" at a rally to stop the construction of a new gas peaker power plant in Peabody. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Mary Klug holds up an indication saying “No Peaker Plant” at a rally to cease the development of a brand new fuel peaker energy plant in Peabody. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Why do individuals oppose the peaker plant?

Those in opposition to the challenge cite a number of causes for his or her opposition. Here are the massive ones:

1. Climate change
Even although this plant will likely be geared up with the newest emissions-trapping know-how, burning pure fuel and oil releases carbon dioxide into the environment and contributes to our local weather issues. The plant is technically permitted to emit as much as 51,000 metric tons of CO2 yearly, however MMWEC officers say it would most likely emit about 7,085 tons per yr (For context, driving a automotive about 2,500 miles emits a ton of C02).

Natural fuel manufacturing and transportation additionally releases methane, which traps much more warmth within the environment than C02.

2. Air high quality and public well being
Burning pure fuel and oil releases positive particulate matter and different pollution which might be dangerous to human well being.

There are many well-documented well being considerations related to fossil fuel-burning energy vegetation,” the Peabody Board of Health wrote in a letter despatched final yr. “Emissions resembling sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and different hazardous pollution can contribute to most cancers danger, start defects, and hurt to the nervous system and mind. Emissions of particulates enhance danger of coronary heart illness, lung most cancers, COPD, and bronchial asthma.”

In a distinct letter concerning the challenge, the Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility put it extra bluntly: the challenge “can be expected to increase mortality rates in the surrounding communities.”

The physicians group, the Peabody Board of Health and others have requested Gov. Charlie Baker’s workplace for a well being impression examine just like the one ordered for the Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station, although no examine has been accomplished.

3. Environmental justice

The challenge web site, which already homes two oil and gas-fired peaker vegetation, is situated close to a number of colleges and daycare facilities, the New England Homes for the Deaf, a senior residing facility and a hospital.

Historically, high-polluting infrastructure has been disproportionately sited close to decrease revenue, non-white and in any other case weak populations. To assist cease this cycle, Massachusetts codified sturdy environmental justice language and guidelines into regulation final yr. Project opponents typically level out that if the plant had been being proposed at the moment, it will be topic to a lot larger state scrutiny as a result of it is inside an environmental justice zone.

The plot on Pulaski Street currently has two gas peaker power plants. The proposed third plant would be built in the flat grassy area where the two yellow trucks are parked. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
The plot on Pulaski Street at the moment has two fuel peaker energy vegetation. The proposed third plant could be constructed within the flat grassy space the place the 2 yellow vans are parked. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

4. Transparency

MMWEC officers say they met the entire mandatory public notification necessities. And paperwork present that in 2016, it posted the challenge plan in state’s environmental monitor and positioned an advert in a neighborhood newspaper.

But many who dwell in Peabody or different close by cities say simply doing the minimal of what is required is not ample. There had been no public conferences or different group outreach efforts concerning the challenge, and when it was mentioned throughout MMWEC conferences, it was normally listed on the agenda as “Project 2015A.”

“This is a lot of the reason why it took so long for people in Peabody to realize this was going on,” says Logan Malik of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network. The time period 2015A “doesn’t tell you that we’re about to build a brand new natural gas and oil-fired power plant in your community.”

MMWEC did finally maintain a public assembly in Peabody concerning the challenge in June 2021 after an upwelling of public outcry satisfied the utility group to place the challenge on maintain for 60 days and reassess its deserves.

Susan Smoller, a Peabody resident and cofounder of Breathe Clean North Shore, says the assembly was a begin, however she was annoyed that folks needed to sit via a two-hour presentation earlier than getting to talk. Many individuals left by that time, she says.

No different public conferences concerning the challenge have been scheduled in close by or taking part communities.

Why does MMWEC say the challenge is required? And why construct it in Peabody?

At the general public assembly final summer season, MMWEC CEO Ronald DeCurzio gave 4 causes to construct the plant:

1. Financial
Municipal utilities, like investor-owned utilities, are required to purchase a certain quantity of “capacity” or “on call” energy for his or her clients in order that the lights received’t exit and costs received’t spike if electrical energy demand rises. Munis should purchase this capability on the free market or they will personal peaker vegetation.

Building a peaker plant would save ratepayers cash within the long-run as a result of there’s a number of value volatility within the capability market, DeCurzio stated.

Were it to desert the plan, MMWEC says it will lose $31 million, each in sunk prices and contractual obligations.

2. Convenience
With two operational peaker vegetation already on the property, the supporting infrastructure the brand new plant would wish — like fuel pipelines and {an electrical} substation — exist already. Not having to construct that may save a number of money and time.

A protester displays a "Stop Peabody peaker" sign at a demonstration. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
A protester shows a “Stop Peabody peaker” signal at an indication. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

3. Climate
DeCurizo and several other different MMWEC officers repeatedly argued that this plant will displace older and dirtier peaker vegetation, like the opposite two on the property. But when pressed, they conceded that there are not any official plans to decommission both of these amenities.

MMWEC additionally intends to finally run the plant on a mixture of pure fuel and hydrogen, which might have local weather advantages. But it could be a number of years earlier than this might occur.

4. Reliable electrical energy
Northeast Massachusetts has “capacity constraints,” making it extra prone to brownouts throughout scorching summer season days or chilly snaps.

MMWEC says constructing a peaking facility within the space might assist forestall this from occurring.

What’s the choice to this plant?

Opponents insist MMWEC might meet its power wants and spend much less cash if it constructed a battery storage system on the location or simply purchased on-call energy on the free market. They level to 2 studies they commissioned to assist their claims.

The first, which checked out batteries, concluded “that energy storage is not only a viable replacement option,” however might “result in emissions and cost savings.”

The second, which examined shopping for on-call energy as an alternative of constructing a plant, discovered that the latter possibility would save ratepayers cash for the primary 15 years of the plant’s anticipated 30-year life. After that, the authors wrote, the profit declines, however it’s onerous to foretell market costs that far into the longer term.

MMWEC officers say they consulted 5 battery suppliers who informed them that the location is simply too small for the array they’d want. And even when house weren’t a problem, putting in batteries could be costlier than the present proposal.

They additionally keep that constructing the plant will lower your expenses.

Where does the challenge stand now?

The Peabody Peaker plant is totally permitted and MMWEC just lately acquired permission from the state’s Department of Public Utilities to subject as much as $170 million in bonds to finance development.

Documents filed by MMWEC say the plant will likely be totally operational by June 2023.

Project opponents say they’re nonetheless dedicated to making an attempt to cease this challenge. In addition to pushing the Baker administration to do group well being evaluation, they’re hoping that the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Kathleen Theoharides, “reopens” the environmental overview course of and orders a full impression examine.

They say Theoharides has the authorized authority to do that, and may, given the shortage of public consciousness the primary time round and the brand new environmental justice provisions signed into regulation final yr. A spokesperson from her workplace stated she will be able to solely order a brand new overview if there was a considerable change to the challenge.

Smoller of Breathe Clean North Shore says that if this avenue would not pan out, she and others will proceed will proceed to combat.

“I have come to see this not as a Peabody issue, but as a state issue,” she says. “It’s crazy, it’s insane, to be investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure in 2022.”

Protesters at a march to stop the construction of a new gas peaker power plant in Peabody. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Protesters at a march to cease the development of a brand new fuel peaker energy plant in Peabody. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)



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