PEABODY— Members of the group Breathe Clean North Shore were in Ludlow early Friday morning to deliver a petition — signed by more than 1,070 people and 36 organizations — opposing the construction of a 55-megawatt gas-powered plant in Peabody.
“We went to (Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company)’s headquarters as representatives of the communities along the Waters River — in Peabody and Danvers — who will be the most immediately and directly harmed by the proposed plan for a dirty peaker plant,” said Sudi Smoller, a longtime Peabody resident, during a press conference following the delivery of the petition. “It was incredibly powerful to know that we had so many people and organizations, both within participating communities and across the state, standing in solidarity with us as signatories of the petition.”
According to a press release from the three organizations that sponsored the petition — Breathe Clean North Shore, Massachusetts Climate Action Network and Community Action Works — more than 100 Peabody residents signed the petition. Over 250 signers are ratepayers from one of the 14 municipal light plant communities that are financing the peaker power plant project and have agreed to purchase energy from the plant.
The petition was delivered on June 11, exactly one month after MMWEC, the organization that would own and operate the plant, announced a 30-day minimum pause of the project intended to give the organization time to address environmental and health concerns and consider other energy options.
The three groups said they gave MMWEC advance notice that some of their members would be stopping by Friday morning to deliver the petition directly to MMWEC Chief Executive Officer Ronald DeCurzio, but despite this they were refused a meeting with DeCurzio and other MMWEC representatives and instead had to give the petition to a security guard.
Spokesperson Kate Roy acknowledged that MMWEC received the petition and said they “(look) forward to discussing the matter further at the upcoming community meeting” scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on June 22 at the Peter A. Torigian Senior Center in Peabody.
“We are hopeful we will have a meaningful dialogue with the communities, share what we have learned thus far and secure community input,” Roy said.
At Friday's press conference, Breathe Clean North Shore representatives and state Rep. Sally Kerans, of Danvers, said they are hopeful the community meeting will allow the public to not only voice their concerns, but learn more about the project and the steps MMWEC has taken to research renewable alternatives to the gas-powered plant.
Mireille Bejjani, a community organizer for Community Action Works, said she is hoping for “an open dialogue.”
But “MMWEC has not communicated directly with us,” she said, explaining that despite reaching out directly to MMWEC, her group found out about the June 22 forum through the media. “I am curious to see what MMWEC will do in the coming days to inform the residents that it is happening.”
Bejjani said MMWEC, which announced the community meeting on June 10, should have given more notice and informed the public about the format.
Kerans said she remains optimistic about MMWEC’s intentions for hosting the forum and looks forward to hearing from both Danvers and Peabody residents.
“We hope that it is a two-way conversation,” she said, adding that she thanks MMWEC for acknowledging the recent onslaught of criticism and concern from North Shore residents and officials and for scheduling the meeting.
In a statement, Roy emphasized that even though 30 days have passed since MMWEC announced a pause to the project, the organization hasn’t announced it is ready to resume the project.
“When we paused the project, it was for a minimum of 30 days, while we engaged with experts and looked at the feasibility of other options, including any technologies that could have advanced since the time the project was proposed. We are still hard at work,” Roy said in a statement.
Plans to build the plant, referred to as Project 2015A in official documents, have 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.
MMWEC says the plant is a capacity resource and would only run intermittently during the year, during times of peak energy demand or high system stress on the regional grid, to help prevent power outages.
Over the past two months, the project has received blowback from residents, local and state officials, and community groups, who say they weren't aware of the plan until recently and are concerned about how the fossil-fuel powered plant could impact the health of the surrounding community.
Staff writer Erin Nolan can be reached at 978-338-2534, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @erin_nolan_.