Blackout of Common Sense (Part 1)

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Sat, 08/28/2021 - 23:17
Residential neighborhoods in Peabody and Danvers are close to the proposed gas turbine peaker

Citizens demand voice on energy future

Residential neighborhoods in Peabody and Danvers are close to the proposed gas turbine peaker, marked by an old smokestack

A failure of administrative oversight

It falls on the administration of Governor Baker to implement the laws written by the legislature of the Commonwealth, including laws to assure that electric utilities will consider the public health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Department of Public Utilities (DPU) has ignored their responsibilities under the new Climate Law, Acts of 2021, Ch. 8 S. 15. They have even failed to apply their historical criteria of reliability and cost.

Although the criteria used by the DPU have until now been limited to the reliability and cost of a proposal, the new Climate Law mandates that the DPU consider additional factors. According to the office of Senator Michael Barrett, “the [Next Generation Roadmap, (Acts 2021 Chapter 8)] directs the Department of Public Utilities (DPU), the regulator of the state's electric and natural gas utilities, to balance priorities going forward: system safety, system security, reliability, affordability, equity, and, significantly, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

The Department of Public Utilities has given the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC) approval to borrow $85 million to build 2015A, a 55 MW peak capacity generator using fossil fuel to be located at the Waters River plant in Peabody. Capacity is the amount of electrical energy available on the order of ISO-NE, the organization that coordinates power in New England, to maintain adequate supplies during times of high demand.

The DPU hearing officer failed to consider all the issues required to be considered under Acts 2021, Chapter 8. This appears to be a failure of Governor Baker and his administration to see to the proper administration of the law.

The provisions of the Climate Law should have required a comprehensive health and environmental review with consideration of reliability, equity, and impact on the climate, not just cost, before proceeding.

There are also questions about the financial viability of the project which were not evaluated.

A failure of fiduciary duty

A document used by MMWEC to justify using a fossil fuel turbine for project 2015A instead of a battery system to provide capacity power shows significant errors exposing ratepayers to the high cost of likely failure of their project. Therefore, we conclude MMWEC has failed to fulfill their fiduciary duty.

Cleaner alternatives

A detailed report by Stratagen Consulting, Assessment of Potential Energy Storage Alternatives for Project 2015A in Peabody, Massachusetts, states that an emerging best practice is to seek proposals for the provision of a capacity facility using a broad range of methods.

Another possible solution would be to halt the project, buy capacity for a few years, and use that time to build on the strong partnership of trust between our communities and our municipal light plants to devise a national demonstration funded by Federal and state government to create money-saving, community-based programs to transition to clean, renewable power with flexible use of energy to help cover peak demands. The potential of community partnerships is outlined by Valletti, Let’s Renew the Peabody Municipal Light Plant Partnership with Peabody and by Halberstadt, Renewable & Reliable Energy: Solving an “impossible” challenge .

Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota has advanced legislation to create the Clean Electricity Payments Program to “provide financial incentives for electric utilities to switch to cleaner energy — and impose penalties on those that fail to act.”—Globe

Citizens demand transparency and accountability. We don’t need to be experts to see that common sense is not being applied. Here are steps to take now.

  • When a public agency neglects to take appropriate care to assure carrying out their fiduciary responsibilities let’s hold them to account. Pass new legislation for oversight over municipal light plants, and make sure that state agencies apply the law.

  • We believe that it is in the public interest to halt project 2015A.

  • A comprehensive review of the public health, environmental, and climate impacts of a fossil fuel plant should be undertaken.

  • Alternative methods for addressing capacity requirements and other energy needs must be considered and fairly evaluated.

  • The Commonwealth should fund demonstration programs to enable municipal light plants and the citizens they serve to work together to enhance quality of life through shifting from fossil fuel to renewable energy.

The process of planning and approval of project 2015A has taken place without transparency or input from citizens, including those living nearby in environmental justice communities, or from experts. Citizen advocates for clean, renewable energy are united in opposition to the peaker plant and urge consideration of alternative solutions for providing capacity. Citizens demand transparency, accountability and a fresh look at old plans in the light of the new climate law and new technology, and with awareness of the dire consequences of failing to respond to the climate crisis.

Jerry Halberstadt of Peabody is coordinator of the Clean Power Coalition. He participates in Massachusetts Climate Action Network, Breathe Clean North Shore, StopPeabodyPower, Community Action Works, Sierra Club, and Elders Climate Action. This article reflects his own views and may not reflect the views of other individuals and organizations.