A new vision
When we are determined to find a solution, we say we will leave no stone unturned.
Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC) and 14 participating municipal light plants have invested $30 million in a 55MW fossil fuel peaker plant in Peabody. What were they thinking? They don't yet have all the required regulatory and financial approvals needed to go forward. The peaker plant is not even likely to achieve the goals of providing inexpensive, reliable power to keep things running during times of extreme demand or crisis. Their plan faces strong opposition and risk, not only from clean energy advocates, but because of a failure of vision in their plan. Their goal is to continue to use fossil fuel technology to provide reliable, inexpensive service. Although we know how to provide clean, reliable, affordable energy, MMWEC does not value public health, the environment, and the climate crisis when dealing with their obligation to provide capacity to meet heavy usage requirements.
The solution requires that all of us in the community demand a new vision, a vision that we all embrace, a vision that requires us to work together for change.
From today, our vision must include public health, the environment, and the climate crisis. Citizens who oppose the proposed 55MW fossil fuel peaker plant in Peabody are concerned for the climate and local natural environment, including avoiding pollution and degradation of wetlands. The proposed new peaker generator would be the third fossil fuel generator in Peabody, increasing pollution in Danvers and Peabody. It is not fair for local environmental justice communities to suffer 100% of the pollution.
It is not necessary to build the fossil fuel plant, because there are other options available. These options are available now. All that is required is for us to act on our fundamental values, give new priority to people and the world that our grandchildren will inherit, and to stop thinking in purely financial terms. Our new vision will require changes to the whole system of creating, transporting, and using energy; it will require us to change our expectations and make new choices even in our personal lives. That will be essential if we care about each other and the future of our grandchildren.
The capacity obligation for a community can be managed. In Peabody, the base demand is about 120 MW, according to PMLP Manager Charles Orphanos. The capacity is set by ISO-NE at 40% of the base demand, 48 MW. The PMLP share of the new plant is set at 16.5 MW covering part of their capacity obligation.
Strategies to reduce the required demand can include conservation, efficiency, thermal and battery storage, and shifting electrical use away from peak usage times. Thermal energy storage managed by software can reduce peak demand and cut electric charges by 30%.
Some municipal light plants, including in Peabody, have been slow to implement those changes, and lax in promoting the strategies that they already favor.
Such changes require a business model shift from central generation and distribution, to highly interactive, distributed networks of people as well as electrical grid connections. Yes, the light plants might sell less electricity, but reducing electricity demand costs less than building new generation capability.
A shared goal
MMWEC and the municipal light plants are constrained by legislation, regulation, and the realities of the regional electric grid and transmission infrastructure. Their customers demand reliable and inexpensive electricity.
Advocates for clean energy want to reduce and eliminate the use of fossil fuels and shift to clean renewable resources as rapidly as possible.
PMLP commissioners are proud of their ongoing efforts to develop non-capacity power through a portfolio of renewables, including solar, wind, and hydro.
Can we afford to rely on gas for capacity, or do we have a better way to address our energy needs?
We must not continue to assume an infinite electric resource. We must work together to eliminate the use of fossil fuels.
Federal and state investment is needed to upgrade the transmission network to enable a rapid transition to clean energy.
Federal and state intervention is needed to encourage ISO-NE to adapt to and actively encourage new technologies and renewables on a fair basis.
ISO-NE holds yearly auctions where they receive bids from energy producers to make sure that the region has enough power. With the rise of renewables, they’ve imposed “minimum offer price rules” in those auctions that require state-sponsored clean energy resources — namely, solar, wind, and energy storage — to submit overpriced bids...The effect of ISO-NE’s market rules is clean energy largely being barred from the grid.
If due consideration were given to the public health, the plant would not be sited in Peabody, where environmental justice communities would be further harmed. At the very least, one or both of the existing plants in Peabody should be taken out of service.
If the plant is canceled or delayed for several years, communities could develop better systems to develop local energy resources and shift to renewables.
Capacity power can be purchased. The cost must be balanced against the harm of fossil fuels.
The need for peak power can be mitigated locally by collaboration among consumers and providers of electric power. Conservation, efficiency, and local distributed clean energy systems can provide resilience and reliability. Shifting usage away from peak times will reduce capacity requirements.
Municipal light plants serving 300,000 ratepayers in Peabody and 13 other municipalities could take on a leadership role by actively guiding and providing incentives for citizens to adopt methods for reducing peak energy demand—developing rooftop solar programs, thermal storage, batteries, and smart local networking, among other techniques. Demonstration programs can likely be funded by federal infrastructure legislation.
Incentive programs that pay customers to enable the grid to draw on battery storage and to reduce electrical use during peak demand times are already in place in Massachusetts. National Grid, an investor-owned company, promotes their "Connected Solutions" program. Why don't municipal power plants have similar programs?
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Tom D’Amato, Commission Chairman of the Peabody Municipal Light Plant, said,
“The project manager, MMWEC, is the entity to whom you should be directing any additional questions or concerns regarding 2015A.”
“Future collaboration and commitment to decarbonization [will put] peaker plants in the rear view mirror. Unfortunately, we are not there yet, and the reality of our obligation as a load serving entity to provide safe, reliable, and cost efficient electric service to our rate payers is paramount.”
“As a municipal, PMLP will certainly entertain the idea of sharing thoughts and ideas for achieving our shared goal of eliminating or greatly reducing any future reliance on fossil fuels.”
Working on shared goals can unite everyone—clean energy advocates, ratepayers, and the municipal light plants.
We need to create partnerships embracing the Federal government around regulations and grants for demonstration programs; our legislators and Governor for state regulations and support; expertise from a university with competence in the technical and social realms; from local political leadership; and MMWEC and PMLP and other municipal plants.
Let’s leave no stone unturned to find better solutions as we work together to meet the challenge.