To the editor:
This week, Peabody’s Mayor Bettencourt will update city councilors regarding the proposed multimillion dollar fossil fuel plant to be built a half-mile from Bishop Fenwick and Carroll Elementary. This plant will provide 20 megawatts of backup power for Peabody and 40 megawatts for other Massachusetts communities. It includes the construction of a 90-foot smoke stack, a 200,000 gallon oil tank, and will spew greenhouse gases into our air precisely at a time when scientists tell us we are in a climate catastrophe and must make smarter investments in the future.
Peabody Municipal Light Plant is only one of dozens municipal light plants (MLPs) authorized under state law. How are other MLPs investing in their energy future? In Holyoke, their MLP operates the state’s largest solar storage battery to provide peak power. It stores energy from the Mt. Tom Solar Farm and has been in operation since 2018. Note, this project came on line three years after the initial approval of the Peabody fossil fuel plant. In Boylston, an MLP has constructed a “fly-wheel” energy storage system to supplement its current solar array, allowing for 128 kilowatts of storage. The Berkshire Wind Power Project, a partnership of 16 MLPs, produces almost 20 megawatts of power with 12 wind turbines atop Mt. Hancock. The Peabody fossil fuel plant, a partnership of 14 MLPs, will produce electricity by burning natural gas and oil in a densely populated area.
The potential for renewable energy to provide our peak demand needs is here, if we make the right investments. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (eia.gov), in 2019, “Renewable resources provided about one-fourth of the (Massachusetts’) total generation, and the largest renewable electricity contribution came from small-scale solar panel systems with less than one megawatt of generating capacity.” Furthermore, the EIA also reports that use of utility-scale solar batteries quadrupled from 2014 to 2019, providing 899 megawatt hours nationally.
How is PMLP encouraging use of local green energy? Well, PMLP generally does not purchase solar power from its residential producers, preferring a “credit only” scheme. I’m sure this helps keep bills low but also makes going solar less attractive. If you exceed a certain size, you have to sell all of your power to the PMLP and purchase it back from them, creating a needless burden for those with the wherewithal to build a larger array.
We cannot allow the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure until Peabody gets serious and fully leverages our solar and wind potential. Rather than invest in fossil fuel infrastructure that will only harm our community and planet, let’s invest in storage, energy reduction, and a smart grid. Let’s open the doors to residential solar and encourage home energy storage. What could we do with solar panels on 5,000 rooftops and a few wind turbines in Peabody?
Tristan R. Brown