Peabody Power Plant
Frequently Asked Questions*
What can I do?
WMGLD is governed by five elected Gas and Light Commissioners with a General Manager overseeing day-to-day activities. All have been responsive to inquiries about this and other issues. Their contact information is located on the website and their meetings are open to the public via zoom on generally on the first Wednesday of the month. Please take the time to engage with the Commissioners and your other local officials on the topic.
What has WMGLD said about the project?
WMGLD has been responsive to inquiries about the project, dedicating time during their October and November 2020 meetings to the subject. Upon request, they have provided documents related to how the project fits into their capacity planning and released minutes from previous executive sessions, available here. In the November meeting, Commissioners Kallay and Boettcher requested additional information from MMWEC and WMGLD management, which should be presented at a future meeting. Recording of the November 2020 meeting.
Why can't we find easily accessible information from MMWEC, Peabody or the participating municipal utilities on this facility?
That is my question. In addition to environmental and cost concerns, I am greatly bothered by the lack of transparency around this facility and its approval process. Municipal utilities are heralded as responsive to local citizens and their concerns. In its application for a permit, MMWEC states it recognizes the importance of developing a "Project that is compatible with zoning and community needs and concerns." (p. 4 of MEPA form). It is unclear to me how they have assessed community needs and concerns by holding closed-door meetings, failing to inform local elected officials and denying easy access to project documentation. The host utility, Peabody Municipal Light Plant, does not make minutes of meetings available on their website, despite their "Community Owned, Not for Profit, It's Ours" motto.
Don't we still need fossil fuels to keep our electricity reliable?
Yes, to be clear, this is not an issue about whether or not fossil fuels still play a role in our electricity mix. Until renewable power can be made more reliable with storage technologies, it is reasonable to expect usage of dispatchable generation like natural gas. However, there is no need to be building new oil-fired generation. If this were an efficient combined-cycle natural gas facility, it would not be as troublesome. However, the project is dual-fueled burning both natural gas AND ultra-low sulfur distillate (USLD), which, in layman's terms, is heavy diesel oil. While MMWEC claims that the use of oil will be limited, the fact is that New England's heavy reliance on natural gas for heating and aging infrastructure results in inevitable and costly gas constraints, making it highly likely that oil will be used to the maximum allowable by permit.
Who is building the power plant?
The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC) is building the power plant. MMWEC is a non-profit, public corporation and political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts created by Special Act of the Massachusetts legislature, with two board members appointed by the Governor. It has the authority to develop and finance, via tax-exempt revenue bonds electric power projects on behalf of its members. Despite being a public entity, MMWEC has released little public information on the project. In fact, it does not even list it as a project under development on its website.
What other towns/utilities are part of the project?
According to minutes from a June 2017 2015A Participants Committee Meeting, participants are municipal utilities from: Wakefield, Holyoke, Shrewsbury, Marblehead, Holden, Sterling, Mansfield, Hull, West Boylston, Peabody, and Boylston. A March 2017 document also lists Russell and Chicopee as participants. Like Wakefield, it appears that most, if not all deliberation and approvals were granted in Executive Sessions, or sessions not open to public viewing, participation nor timely access to minutes.
What permits have already been granted?
The plant has submitted its Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) review application with the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs determining in 2016 that no MEPA review is necessary, but setting forth the following conditions and recommendations:
Finalization of wetland resource mapping and proceed with review by the Peabody Conservation Commission (p. 5; requirement);
An Order of Conditions from the Peabody Conservation Commission, or in the case of an appeal, a Superseding Order of Conditions from MassDEP (p.2; requirement)
Compliance with any GHG emissions reductions required by the promulgation of regulations related to the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) (p. 5, requirement);
Consideration of raising the 0.6-acre turbine site, or providing an alternative method of protection, to mitigate (ironically!) against potential climate change impacts (as the project is located near the Waters River, a tidal river susceptible to increased flood elevation due to rising sea level and increased storm intensive as "anticipated effects of climate change" (p. 5, recommendation).
The plant was issued an Air Quality Permit which the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in September 2020 under a Non-Major Comprehensive Plan Approval Application that does not require a public hearing. Interestingly. The Draft Air Quality Permit was released dated August ?, 2020 with a 30 day review period that closed on September 21, 2020.
What permits are still needed to build the plant?
The plant must still comply with #1 through 3 above under conditions set forth by the Secretary of EEA. Recent calls to the Peabody Conservation Committee revealed they had no immediate knowledge of the project, so we assume it will be on a future agenda.
At the November WMGLD meeting, an MMWEC representative was asked about additional required permits. He indicated that permission is required from the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities in order for MMWEC to issue a bond to finance the construction. No meeting currently appears on the DPU docket.
When is the project expected to be complete?
Dates vary in the publicly filed materials. Some indicate commercial operation as early as June 2021. When questioned at the WMGLD meeting, an MMWEC representation indicated it is to be online by summer 2022. Regardless, all permitting must be complete before construction can begin, which is why focusing on permit timing is critical to the project's ability to move forward.
What is a stranded asset and why should we worry?
Power plants typically last 30 to 50 years, and construction costs are paid off over the course of their lifespans. A bill to make Massachusetts 100% clean energy by 2045 sits in the legislature while President-elect Biden has called for 100% clean energy by 2035. Either of these policies would make the operation of the Peabody plant impracticable if not illegal as early as 15 years from now, leaving Wakefield and other towns on the hook to cover the debt, while also having to pay for whatever source of energy or capacity replaces it. We would be stuck with a stranded asset.
T0 put it in perspective, a study just published in the journal Science mapped out every coal-, gas-, or petroleum-powered generator running in the U.S. in 2018, the most recent year for which complete data was available. The study's author, Emily Grubert of Georgia Tech, found that the vast majority of fossil plants — more than 70 percent — will actually reach the end of their expected lifespans before 2035, and should theoretically be paid off by or around then, making it easier for officials to make the policy change to clean energy.
* Information has been gathered from publicly-available resources and is shared to raise awareness and inspire action.