Energy Democracy in Peabody

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Wed, 05/25/2022 - 19:00

Energy democracy—public participation in policy— is the best way to engage the whole community in our clean energy future. The energy revolution has begun—clean, climate-friendly power from renewable resources is beating fossil fuel on price, reliability, pollution, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. To enable the transition, reform is needed at every level of the energy system. In Peabody, we need education, transparency, citizen participation, and long-range planning.

The financial costs of electric power are borne by the ratepayers. The true costs of continuing to rely on fossil fuels like so-called “clean, natural gas,” which is dangerous methane, are bad health and premature death, harm to our wetlands and forests, and climate warming that is on track to make the planet unlivable for our grandchildren.

Effective democracy requires participation by all concerned citizens, community organization, determined advocacy, responsive leadership, information that is clearly interpreted, a seat at the table where decisions are made, and above all, transparency.

Today, we lack transparency and a plan for our local community's energy future. We can’t afford the old secret methods and Peabody deserves a comprehensive plan for the future.

It appears that our Peabody Municipal Light Plant (PMLP) has not yet established a power supply policy, and instead depends on Mass Municipal Wholesale Electric Company  to provide piecemeal solutions.

In the Peabody Municipal Light Commission meeting on April 28, 2022,  Matthew Ide, Treasurer and Executive Director of Energy & Financial Markets at Mass Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC), reviewed the requirements for clean power like wind that PMLP must meet going forward. With very little discussion or a due diligence report, the PMLP commissioners agreed to invest $6.5 million in Project 2022A, a 100-MW battery.

A report by by Logan Malik of Mass Community Action Network found that the municipal light plants that are most advanced in meeting climate goals had adopted a power supply plan. Such a plan must be part of a comprehensive community energy plan based on energy democracy.

The lack of public disclosure seems to be the hallmark of MMWEC. Project 2015A, the fossil fuel generator for reserve capacity power now under construction at the Waters River Facility, is managed by MMWEC and had been almost finalized without public transparency before citizens became aware of it.

The lack of transparency led to a furious reaction by citizens and professionals who are concerned about the impacts of fossil fuel use on health, the environment, and global warming.

In Peabody, a few of us formed Breathe Clean North Shore in a continuing effort to halt the construction of the Peabody peaker. Joined by advocates on the North Shore and across the Commonwealth, we are the start of energy democracy for Peabody and the municipal light plant.

We and our allies have held several demonstrations in Peabody Square and at the Danversport Bridge over the Waters River between Peabody and Danvers, organized online information sessions, have conducted a week-long hunger strike and delivered a 1,300-signature petition to then-Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides. We have been joined by Senator Joan Lovely and Representatives Sally Kerans and Tami Gouveia, and former senator and candidate for governor, Ben Downing. 

When Tracy Valletti campaigned to be a commissioner of the PMLP board, she discovered a broad consensus about the need for transparency. Valletti is currently working with the city council to adopt a green community status for Peabody. We are working with the health department to install air quality monitors, and have reached out to the city development department relating to a study of greenhouse gas emissions. Susan and Ron Smoller, Steve Andrada, and others have established an ongoing dialog to engage with PMLP, and have helped to initiate local cable video broadcasts of PMLP meetings.

To achieve energy democracy in Peabody, we must now engage with all neighborhoods and interest groups, the city council, city departments, the mayor, and the Peabody Municipal Light Plant. The future is bright if we will but work together. Please join us on the journey to energy democracy and a new pride in Peabody.

Jerry Halberstadt, Peabody; Breathe Clean North Shore;

Susan Smoller, Peabody; Breathe Clean North Shore