PEABODY — Controversial plans to build a 55-megawatt gas-powered peaker plant in the city remain on hold.
In a filing dated Monday with the state Department of Public Utilities, the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company — which would own and operate the plant — said it is “not prepared to resume this proceeding on June 15, 2021.”
“MMWEC needs additional time to determine when it will be prepared to resume this proceeding,” the letter states.
Earlier this year, MMWEC petitioned the DPU for authorization to borrow $170 million, split into two $85 million loans, to build the plant. In mid-May, the DPU proceedings were temporarily put on hold when MMWEC’s board of directors voted to authorize a 30-day minimum pause on the project in order to address residents’ environmental and health concerns and to research other energy options.
MMWEC had until June 15 to update the department on whether the organization was ready to resume its efforts to fund the project, which is referred to as Project 2015A in public documents.
MMWEC now has until July 15 to file another update with the DPU.
That next update will state whether MMWEC is prepared to resume the process or if they need more time, and if so, an approximate date when they will be prepared to resume, according to DPU hearing officer Lauren Morris.
Project 2015A has been in the works since 2015, and the plant was previously approved to be built at Peabody Municipal Light Plant’s Waters River substation, behind the Pulaski Street industrial park. But over the past two months, MMWEC’s plans to build the plant have received blowback from residents, local and state officials, and community groups who say they weren’t aware of the project until recently and are concerned about how the fossil-fuel powered plant could impact the health of the surrounding community.
Breathe Clean North Shore, a community group that formed in opposition to the proposed plant, said they are optimistic about MMWEC’s decision to continue the pause.
“However, the continuation of this pause is paired with the continued lack of transparency and forthcoming information: We had to check the DPU docket daily to see this update, rather than being told by MMWEC themselves,” the group said in a statement.
MMWEC does plan to host a community meeting to share information about Project 2015A and to solicit feedback on Tuesday, June 22, at 6:30 p.m., at the Peter A. Torigian Senior Center in Peabody.
According to MMWEC, the meeting will include a presentation by MMWEC — as well as municipal light plant officials and subject matter experts — on its investigation into alternative sources, followed by a question and answer session.
While members of Breathe Clean North Shore are happy with MMWEC’s decision to host the upcoming meeting, they said in a statement they are sill waiting for more detailed information about how the meeting will be conducted.
“For example, how will folks sign up to speak? Can people participate remotely? Will there be translators? What COVID precautions will be taken? Will it be televised? We are concerned that this meeting will not allow the kind of meaningful community engagement that needs to be a part of this process,” the group said in a statement.
Earlier this month, MMWEC spokesperson Kate Roy said the organization is still “hard at work” addressing environmental and health concerns and researching alternative energy options.
“We look forward to discussing alternative technologies and other updates at the meeting on Tuesday,” Roy said in a statement.
According to MMWEC, the plant would be a “peaking plant” and would be a capacity resource that only runs intermittently during the year, during times of peak energy demand or high system stress on the regional grid. These peaking plants are intended to help prevent power outages, MMWEC said.
Staff writer Erin Nolan can be reached at 978-338-2534, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @erin_nolan_.