PEABODY — Sudi Smoller, a longtime Peabody resident, found it extremely odd when she received an email from the Sierra Club earlier this year that detailed 6-year-old plans to build a 55-megawatt gas-powered plant in the city.

“I’m an avid reader and a local journalist, or I used to be, and how could I not know about this plan?” she said during a May 25 community meeting. “I read every local newspaper regularly.”

Smoller’s confusion and desire to learn more about the project’s potential environmental impact led her to Community Action Works, a nonprofit that works with and helps communities organize against environmental threats.

With the help of Community Action Works, Smoller and others formed “Breathe Clean North Shore,” the group that organized the May 25 meeting. According to the newly-formed group’s website, BCNS is “a group of citizens who object to the planned dirty energy peaker plant in Peabody and seek to engage our community to move forward in a way that spotlights the environment, tackles the urgency of climate change and champions sustainability.”

Theodora Kalfopoulos, who has lived in Peabody since 1978, said during the meeting that she joined the group primarily because of her health.

“I need to eat clean, breathe clean and live clean in order to sustain a healthy balance,” she said. “I recognize that I’m not alone in practicing this approach of daily living. I am speaking on behalf of many others who are not able to be present and for those who cannot speak for themselves. We as a community and I as an individual, do not need this peaker plant. Just from the get-go, it is an obsolete proposition, considering the global condition and human suffering.”

The plan to build the plant, referred to as Project 2015A in official documents, has been in the works since 2015 and was previously approved to be built at Peabody Municipal Light Plant’s Waters River substation, behind the Pulaski Street industrial park.

After receiving criticism from residents, local and state officials and community groups, Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC), the organization that would own and operate the plant, announced on May 11 they were authorizing a minimum 30-day pause on the plans. In a statement, MMWEC said the time during which the project is on hold would be used to meet with and seek input from community members, state officials and others in order to address environmental and health concerns and consider alternative energy options.

Julie Smith-Galvin, a town councilor from Wakefield — one of 14 communities that have agreed to invest in and purchase energy from the plant — said MMWEC should look at cleaner energy options. She also has an extensive background working with renewable energy companies.

“I work in energy for a living. I’m very passionate about climate change and renewable energy. I actually think this project probably made sense when the light department started looking at it in 2015, but I absolutely do not think it makes sense today with advances in technology, what we know about climate change risks, and given current legislation,” Smith-Galvin said, adding that she was speaking as a private citizen.

In a statement, MMWEC said the proposed plant would emit about 7,500 tons of carbon per year, but would still be cleaner than 94% of similar peaking resources in the region.

“It will be displacing emissions, resulting in a net reduction of carbon emissions,” the statement said, adding that peaker plants, which only run during periods of unusually high energy consumption, are an important part of the state’s plans to curb carbon emissions. 

Wakefield Municipal Gas and Light Plant Commissioner Philip Courcy said during the community meeting that greener options like batteries charged by renewable resources sound good in theory, but they aren’t as reliable as peaker plants. 

“We have a responsibility to keep the lights on. We have a responsibility to keep rates low,” he said.

For weeks now, members of the newly-named Breathe Clean North Shore have been working to educate the public about the proposed plant, ask questions about the project and its impact on the community and voice their concerns to the state and local agencies that have some control over the project. Now, Smoller said, the group plans to ask MMWEC to meet with the 14 communities that agreed to buy energy from the plant.

The group also intends to deliver a signed petition to MMWEC on June 11, which is the 30th day of the pause on the process, calling upon CEO Ronald DeCurzio to withdraw the peaker proposal and replace it with clean alternatives now available.

In addition, Smoller said the group will be supporting the nonprofits Massachusetts Community Action Network and Clean Energy Group as they work on an assessment that will determine the viability of renewable energy alternatives to the gas-powered plant.

The next BCNS meeting is June 1 at 6:30 p.m.

Staff writer Erin Nolan can be reached at 978-338-2534, by email at enolan@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @erin_nolan_.

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