PEABODY — Plans to build a 55-megawatt “peaker” power plant in the city are forging ahead.
According to a decision filed by the Department of Public Utilities Aug. 12, the department approved a request from the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC) for up to $170 million in bonds to fund the construction of the plant.
According to MMWEC, which would own and operate the natural gas-powered plant, the plant is estimated to cost about $85 million.
Plans to build a new peaker plant, which would only run during periods of especially high demand for electricity, have been in the works since 2015. The plant, referred to as Project 2015A in public documents, was previously approved to be built at Peabody Municipal Light Plant’s Waters River substation, behind the Pulaski Street Industrial Park.
After pausing the project for two-months in order to respond to locals’ environmental and health concerns and investigate alternative energy options, MMWEC announced multiple changes to Project 2015A including the elimination of one of two 200,000 gallon oil tanks and the switch from ammonia to urea. PMLP also announced plans to retire Gas Turbine Number One.
But according to a press release from the Massachusetts Climate Action Network, these changes aren’t enough to justify a new fossil fuel-burning plant in a community already burdened by air pollution from two existing peaker plants.
“We are deeply disappointed by the outcome of this proceeding,” said Sarah Dooling, Executive Director of MCAN in the release. “DPU’s approval brings MMWEC one step closer to building a power plant that will contribute to local pollution and harm local community members, while highlighting — yet again — how broken DPU processes are. The DPU is meant to serve the people of the Commonwealth by considering safety, security, reliability of service, affordability, equity, and greenhouse gas emission reductions in their decision making. In approving these bonds without requiring further evaluation of the project, DPU has abandoned their mission to promote equity and emissions reductions. MCAN will continue to push for the Baker Administration to do their job and protect vulnerable communities by demanding that the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs re-open the MEPA process for this project and require MMWEC to conduct an environmental impact review.”
Mireille Bejjani, a Massachusetts Community Organizer for the nonprofit Community Action Works, called the DPU’s decision “insulting to Peabody residents who are concerned for their health and our climate.”
In the press release, Bejjani also noted that the decision comes only days after the United Nations released a report which warns that the world will continue to see climate change-induced disasters for years to come.
Sudi Smoller, a Peabody resident and member of Breathe Clean North Shore, a community group opposing the plant, said even though the cost of the plant will be divided among several communities, Peabody residents will be disproportionately impacted by the plant’s pollution.
“It’s time to do all we can to combat climate change,” she said. “There’s no excuse for continuing to burn fossil fuels. We need a utility of the future, not the past.”
Staff writer Erin Nolan can be reached at 978-338-2534, by email at email@example.com or onTwitter at @erin_nolan_.
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