Peabody peaker plant

A rendering of the proposed gas power plant, which would be built near the Peabody Municipal Light Plant’s Waters River substation.

PEABODY — Plans to build a 55-megawatt natural gas-powered plant in the city are officially on hold.

At a special meeting on Monday, Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company’s board of directors voted to authorize a minimum 30-day pause on the plans, the organization said in a statement.

In the meantime, MMWEC, which will own and operate the power plant, plans to address environmental and health concerns and to consider other energy options.

A plan to build a 60-megawatt gas- and oil-powered plant — which would provide capacity energy during peak usage times, — in Peabody next to t…

The project, 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. But it's come under criticism from residents, local and state officials, and community groups, who say they weren't aware of the plan until just recently.

According to MMWEC, pausing the project is “an unusual step.”

“MMWEC is a proven leader in carbon-free technology, and we are proud that our members’ power portfolios have some of the highest percentages of renewable energy and the lowest carbon emissions in the Commonwealth,” said Ron DeCurzio, CEO of MMWEC, in the statement. “In fact, most of the Project 2015A participating municipal light plants have already exceeded the Baker Administration’s 2030 carbon reduction targets. We plan to continue that leadership in the next phase of energy development. Can we find a way to develop a needed capacity resource that isn’t fossil fuel-fired but still reliable in times of need? It is worth taking another look at whether advancements in technology make a different approach possible today.”

DeCurzio previously explained that the Peabody plant was intended to provide capacity — as opposed to energy — to Peabody and 13 other communities that plan to purchase electricity from the plant.

Energy, he previously said, is the actual amount of electricity which customers use throughout the year, while capacity is the ability to generate additional energy when demand is high. ISO New England, the organization that operates the regional electric grid, requires that municipal light departments like PMLP not only be able to provide the energy used by the community, but also an additional 40% to 50% in case of system stress caused by extreme weather or the failure of an energy resource.

Renewable energy resources like wind and solar, MMWEC Director of Communications and External Affairs Kate Roy previously said, are not reliable sources of capacity.

“Those (renewables) are really good for energy, but they don’t provide capacity, and we have to fulfill both of those requirements,” she previously said. “That is why we can’t just replace it with a whole bunch more wind or a whole bunch more solar.”

Now, MMWEC said it is “considering available options to fulfill its participants’ required capacity obligations under ISO New England rules,” according to their statement.

DeCurzio noted in the statement that technology has changed a lot in the years since the project was first proposed, making the need for reassessment necessary.

“We are thankful for the significant input we have received from interested stakeholders, including the elected and appointed leaders of the Commonwealth and from municipal officials,” DeCurzio said in the statement. “We share the zeal expressed by many members of the public for embracing new technologies. Driving toward the best carbon-free technology, while making sure it meets reliability and affordability standards for our communities — that is in our DNA.”

Over the next 30 days, MMWEC will meet with and seek input from stakeholders, including regulators, other state officials, the participating communities and the larger community to consider alternatives and assess their feasibility, according to the statement. Afterward, the board will regroup to discuss the findings, the statement said.

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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