Peabody Needs Sustainable Energy to Survive Part 1: What We Must Do

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Tue, 12/21/2021 - 02:13

“Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

Our survival is at risk. The world is on fire, drowning in flood, thirsty in drought, hungry in famine, devastated by tornadoes. Climate change caused by human activities, mainly from burning of fossil fuel—gas and oil, is threatening all of nature along with our civilization. In Peabody, fossil fuel generators and cars harm our health. Is cheap energy worth the disaster?

What can we do in Peabody to address our share of this world problem? We must focus on eliminating all sources of greenhouse gases— that trap heat in the atmosphere and change the climate. Our use of fossil fuel is harming us now and threatens the future of our grandchildren.

We must stop using fossil fuel now. What can we do instead for power?

To enjoy abundant, reliable energy from sustainable sources, we must work together to reduce and manage our energy use, generate renewable energy such as solar, and import energy from offshore wind.

We have very little time to transition from using fossil fuel to sustainable, renewable sources. We should have started decades ago.

If we continue to burn gas and oil to generate our electricity, we will cause disease, harm the rivers and wetlands, and hasten the time when our planet will not sustain human life. We can at least try to avert these dire outcomes and mitigate climate change, by rapidly switching to a sustainable power system based on renewable energy.

We must stop the use of fossil fuels.

Net zero

What is net zero? It is the idea that we will reduce our use of fossil fuels as much as possible and subtract greenhouse gas from the atmosphere to balance the emissions of continued fossil fuel burning. A seductive idea because it takes away the pressure to act now. We should drop the “net” because that “net” depends on future miracle solutions to remove greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. We must aim for zero.

The proposed peaker plant (a 60MW generator running on fossil fuel), at maximum permitted running hours, will generate 50,000 tons of carbon and add an additional 11% greenhouse gas emissions to the Peabody emissions annual total. At a nominal carbon price of $100/ton, the social cost of running the plant would be $5 million a year. And that price for carbon, even if applied universally, would not save the planet.

...carbon prices of $32, $52 and $93 per metric ton (in 2018 U.S. dollars), if implemented in 2025, would achieve net-zero targets in 2060, 2050 and 2040, respectively.”Renee Cho

The main benefit of the peaker plant claimed by proponents is that we need energy now and the peaker will save money. That argument has no validity because will be a decade before the market conditions might make it worthwhile; and the peaker technology already does or very soon will cost more to run than renewable resources like solar, offshore wind, and battery storage, and the peaker will end up unused (“stranded asset”) with an $85 million investment to pay off, that will cost the typical Peabody ratepayer $3,000.

Paul Dale, Energy Committee Chair of the Massachusetts Sierra Club, asserted that,

There is no justification for a plant that is very expensive to build and run and will inevitably become a stranded asset as offshore wind and solar expand. MMWEC should be encouraged to enter into composite contracts for offshore wind for its member MLPs. In that way MMWEC could provide a real service for its members.”

Dale prepared a comprehensive evaluation of the economic and technical factors for the peaker plant, and concluded that,

Building a new fossil-fuel based plant at this time is not in the interest of the [municipal light plants], their ratepayers, the state’s recently enacted climate roadmap law, the residents of Massachusetts generally and specifically those near the site.”

If we allow the peaker plant to go forward, we’re taking what in football would be a loss of down and a 10 yard penalty towards the goal of reducing emissions.

After passing bold new climate laws in Massachusetts, the first thing the Baker administration is doing is to allow the construction of a brand new dirty power plant in Peabody, MA. Do view Ben Hillman's video on the Peabody peaker—A 5-minute, incisive analysis and story.

We must not ignore the impacts of burning fossil fuel as if they were “externalities,” because externalities are harmful. Emissions of tiny, invisible particles (“particulates”) worsen asthma and other lung disease in our area, as reported by Adrienne Allen, MD, MPH.

In a July 8, 2021 letter to Governor Baker, the Peabody Department of Health presented the need for a public health and environmental review of the peaker plant. We must not ignore the pollution including greenhouse gas emissions from PMLP.

Potential in Peabody

Recently PMLP decided to commit $10 million to the start of work on the peaker. Imagine what that money could instead be doing to advance the cause of reducing energy use, creating and storing energy locally—by helping homeowners and the municipality to install solar plus storage solutions that can enable PMLP to reduce and manage peak demand. We could underwrite shifting from gas to electricity for hot water, heating, and cooking. We could implement home heat pumps and develop networks of ground source heat pumps, a technology that uses geothermal energy and recycles waste energy to do useful work, soon to be implemented by Eversource. Broad outlines of the technical and social off-the-shelf solutions are listed by Mothers Out Front; we can choose among them. Imagine an educational campaign to engage with all citizens in Peabody to support and contribute to a sustainable energy future. “Peabody Pride in Clean Energy.”

Read part 2