PEABODY — The organization which would own and operate a proposed 55-megawatt fossil fuel-fired “peaker” plant in the city is planning to resume its efforts to build the plant on July 29, according to a communication filed with the Department of Public Utilities by the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company on Thursday.

Plans to build the $85 million plant have been on hold since May 11, according to a statement from MMWEC, and the organization feels it has adequately addressed the environmental and health concerns of residents and public officials which prompted the pause in the first place.

“MMWEC appreciates the recent input on the project from everyone,” said Ron DeCurzio, MMWEC’s CEO in the statement. “As proven leaders in the incorporation of carbon-free technologies, MMWEC and its members continue to look for ways to increase the carbon-free generation in their energy portfolios, while ensuring they are providing the required capacity, grid reliability, and dependable service for their customers.”

The plant, referred to as Project 2015A in public documents, has been in the works since 2015, and it was previously approved to be built at Peabody Municipal Light Plant’s Waters River Substation, behind the Pulaski Street Industrial Park, where two existing peaker power plants are located. Peaker plants only run when there is an unusually high demand for electricity. 

The new plant would provide occasional power for Peabody and 13 other communities, according to MMWEC, and it is expected to run approximately 239 hours per year. 

During the two-month pause, MMWEC said, PMLP made the decision to decommission one of the two existing plants at the substation. 

“PMLP came to the decision to replace and decommission its existing (20-megawatt) generator, which dates back to the 1970s, after analyzing new Environmental Justice areas designated as of the end of June, 2021 based on the 2020 Census,” the statement said, noting that older plants are less efficient than the new plant. 

Other significant changes to the plan which have been made since putting the project on hold, according to MMWEC, include the elimination of a 200,000 gallon oil tank and a switch away from ammonia to urea as a scrubbing agent.

“In addition, MMWEC undertook extensive discussions with the equipment manufacturer about the potential to incorporate green hydrogen into the fuel mix to further reduce emissions from the Project,” the statement said. “Because green hydrogen as a fuel source is an extremely new technology, those efforts remain to be concluded.”

Breathe Clean North Shore (BCNS), a community group which formed in opposition to the proposed plant, said in a statement that the group is unsatisfied with MMWEC's decision.

"Breathe Clean North Shore continues to seek a comprehensive environmental impact study and health assessment as requested by the Peabody Board of Health. Peabody rate payers will receive all of the risk and thirty percent of the expense of this project and more pollutants added to our already burdened environmental justice areas," the group said in a statement.

Jerry Halberstadt, a Peabody resident and member of BCNS, said in a statement that he is concerned about the plant becoming a stranded asset as politicians, including President Joe Biden, are pushing for less reliance on fossil fuels.

"The peaker plant should not go forward. The plan has evaded careful and comprehensive scrutiny so far. None of the justifications for the plant withstand scrutiny and MMWEC has failed to answer financial and other key questions. They come up with new 'reasons' in each public session, we just don't understand the real motivation for the plant."

 He added that he believes the proposed plant is "immoral because it will harm and kill residents of the North Shore, including environmental justice communities in Danvers and Peabody, and it will add greenhouse gases, harming our grandchildren." 

 Mireille Bejjani, a community organizer for Community Action Works, said she doesn’t feel MMWEC has answered enough questions about the project to resume.

“While MMWEC hosted a meeting in Peabody, they still have not conducted a comprehensive environmental impact study or health impact assessment,” she said. “In moving forward without those pieces, MMWEC is not showing good faith or a desire to gain the trust of the communities to which they should be accountable. We hope the Department of Public Utilities will step up and do what is right by pausing this process until more questions can be answered."

Sarah Dooling, Executive Director of Massachusetts Climate Action Network, said her organization is "deeply disappointed" with MMWEC's decision to resume Project 2015A.

"MMWEC’s claims that the proposed peaker will result in retiring one or both existing peaker plants in Peabody are unsubstantiated," she said. "MCAN has not seen a retirement plan for these plants. Moving forward with the financing approval at this point in time is irresponsible and disregards significant changes in state law. We call on DPU to embrace its new mission of including equity and carbon emissions, and continue the pause for this project.”

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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