Member of the reality-based community of progressive (not anonymous) Massachusetts blogs
(Another installment from Paige of billericapowerplant.org. I think we deserve an answer as to why our state Senator declined to protect public health and wellness in favor of outmoded, out-of-state corporate-driven fossil-fuel burning power plants. –Lynne)
Senator Panagiotakos, among other legislators, voted in the last two weeks against the amendments that would prohibit the siting of a fossil fuel burning power plant “which is less than a mile in linear distance from a playground, licensed day-care center, school, church, area of critical environmental concern as determined by the secretary of environmental affairs pursuant to 301 CMR 12.00, or area occupied by residential housing”. Large plants are under consideration for Billerica, Brockton and Walpole.
Given that there is an 85MW power plant due to go online in Lowell this summer, one that burns all the time and will contribute particulate matter and carbon dioxide, among other pollutants to the air in Lowell and beyond, and given that he is surely aware that pediatric asthma cases are quite high in his community, and given that he knows there is a 348MW plant under consideration for Billerica, and given that yet another plant may be built in Lowell in the future, and he lives and breathes in Lowell, one wonders why he voted the way he did.
The committee on which he sits also voted against convening a special commission to review the criteria used to site power plants in Massachusetts. The conference committee did not take a leadership role and seek to protect the respiratory health of its constituents. Given what is known scientifically about the impacts of particulate matter on the lung development of children, the elderly, and those with compromised breathing issues, surely he would agree that plunking down a very large fossil fuel burning plant in the middle of a densely populated area is not the most forward thinking move, right?
Others in the local delegation have had no trouble expressing their concerns for their constituents including Senators Fargo and Tucker, Representatives Miceli, Hall, Nangle, Golden and Atkins, so why is Senator Panagiotakos not on board? What does he believe these plants bring to the area that offset the clear health impacts in terms of air quality, the potential impacts to the Concord River, local drinking water supplies, and safety of area residents?
Send Senator Panagiotakos an e-mail. Ask him to explain his rationale for not only refusing to protect his constituents, but for voting down the suggestion to create a commission to evaluate the criteria used to site plants in the future.
The landmark bill on energy and the environment carefully worked out by the legislature and the Governor and signed by Patrick into law yesterday makes some important leaps forward to reversing our state’s contribution to global climate change and reducing our energy use.
The bill, which includes some controversial provisions for gasified coal and biofuels with which I disagree, does take some very new and significant steps: energy efficiency and conservation is addressed in a big way, as are incentives (indeed, requirements) for our utilities to get some of their energy - 25% by 2030 - from renewable sources. This paves the way for Massachusetts to perhaps be the first state in the nation to reduce their CO2 emissions to below 1990 levels, something Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles said we could see in the next five years.
So with the goal of reducing our emissions to those levels, and even further, why are we entertaining the notion of putting up large, inefficient peak power plants run off of fossil fuels like the plant being proposed in Billerica? The more of these plants we allow to be built while enacting the provisions of this new law, the harder it will be to reach the goal of CO2 reduction. It’s like taking your treadmill and deliberately placing it on an uphill and expecting that you can do the same amount of work to exercise.
The cost of natural gas to heat our homes has almost doubled since December (I noticed it on my bill, did you?). Part of the reason for the cost is that over the last couple of decades, the cheap availability of natural gas, which enticed many homeowners to convert from oil or electric heat to natural gas, also attracted big corporate energy companies like the one building the Billerica plant or hoping to expand the Lowell L’Energia plant. They are the long-term cause of higher prices, as they made the commodity more scarce and precious. (We residential customers pay the price of course, twice - once at our own gas valve for heating our homes, and the second with higher electricity prices as the cost of generating power with natural gas goes up.) The shorter term cost hikes are more about the volatility of the oil markets and other commodity prices, but suffice it to say that not only are we, as consumers, shooting ourselves in the foot for every natural gas plant built anywhere, but we are also contributing to more global warming and pollution for our local residents.
This is why allowing the Billerica power plant, or allowing L’Energia to go online at all (or expand, though the developer swears he’s not planning to, there appears to be confusion on that) undermines the good work of this landmark legislation.
So to Governor Patrick, Sal DiMasi, and Terese Murray, I congratulate you on your courage, vision and intelligence in passing this bill, but don’t let the Big Energy fool you - they will undermine that goal if it means they can make money. If we stop allowing fossil fuel peak power plants to be built, then we’re that much closer to the goal line. Let’s not build any more of these outdated power plants, and certainly not in dense residential (and disadvantaged) neighborhoods, any longer.
Two items on the Council’s agenda tomorrow night spiked my interest. One, which the Sun writes about, is the acceptance of a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement from L’Energia, the rebuilt Tanner St power plant. The same big firm (coupled with “DG Cleanpower” - a misnomer if I ever heard one) is also trying to build a 6-stack, 348-megawatt gas/diesel power plant in north Billerica.
What is payment-in-lieu-of-taxes? Well, it’s simple. The plant agrees not to get taxed, in favor of just giving us an agreed-upon payment for some number of years that may or may not be less than what they would pay if the property was assessed the old fashioned way your house and mine are. I wish I could freeze my property tax payments for something like 20 years without worrying about the worth of the dollar for a couple decades, inflation, or an increase in value for whatever reason. But it seems like industrial/commercial properties get to do this. Feh.
At the heart of developing these (yes, dirty, fossil-fuel-based) power plants, by the way, is a former City Councilor, so you wonder just how much this guy relies on his old-style connections to get things done around here. I have met Joe Fitzpatrick, and I can tell you that he’s lied to my face during a Q&A session about L’Energia on Tanner. So I don’t trust him one iota, and would love to see the Tanner plant stopped as well as the Billerica plant. But I certainly do not want to get screwed out of due tax money from it either.
Does the payment-in-liu-of-taxes take into account the cost to the city in terms of pollution, increased health risks, and everything else that comes with sticking a power plant in the middle of a city? L’Energia should have remained off line and redeveloped to something appropriate, not put back into use as a polluting power plant. Doesn’t South Lowell get dumped on enough?
Update: I also meant to comment on the other power-plant-related subject of tomorrow night, that of a C. Elliot request to have the Environmental/Neighborhood Subcommittee meet in regards to the very real, very scary traffic issues that could arise out of the proposed Billerica power plant. Kudos to Elliot for starting this conversation. You see, Lowell gets no “payment-in-liu-of-taxes” from the proposed Billerica plant, but we’ll have the mess to clean up if a tanker hits a house, or can’t brake coming down an icy Woburn St ramp and spills its aqueous ammonia right near that dense neighborhood.
I think the city should discuss creating an ordinance making it illegal for tanker trucks carrying fuel or ammonia (or other materials deemed too dangerous) to use the Woburn St exit (or, if we don’t have jurisdiction, get the legislature to do it, or put the ordinance on Woburn St itself), citing the serious safety concerns. That in and of itself negates one of the more attractive features of the Billerica site - its proximity to route 495 - and makes them find another route for their hazmat tankers. Maybe, say, getting off route 3 at Exit 28, Treble Cove Road, and make it entirely Billerica’s problem, seeing as they would get all the cash (er, “payments-in-liu-of-taxes”) from having the plant.
Of course, that doesn’t work, because our first responders have to help if Billerica gets overwhelmed by an accident of those proportions. So who pays for that, and the training besides?
The developer of the proposed Billerica power plant is trying to figure out how to get enough water to manage the various processes that are needed to run the plant. They need to find 180,000 gallons a day, on average. This is hard, especially from the federally protected Concord River. The river is already considered impaired, and Billerica draws its drinking water from it. However, the town is already under a Stage II water ban, and this condition has occurred for several summers. But wait, the proponent is hatching some creative ideas to get the water needed!
The developer thinks it would be a good idea for the residents of Billerica to have low flow showerheads and toilets installed so that they can offset the water needed for the plant. Of course, words such as conservation, mitigation, vouchers, etc. are being tossed about. Now, they’ve never participated in something like this before, but they’re going to throw it against the wall and see if it sticks. Hey, Billerica is going to be in a water crisis eventually anyway, the developer says, so why not start now and retrofit 3,000 homes? Thank goodness this power plant developer came along to show Billerica the way.
What does this have to do with Lowell, you ask? The developer is asking for 40 million gallons of water from the river and/or the town of Billerica. That leaves 20 million gallons that still would need to be trucked in. That’s right. More tankers on Woburn Street- right through South Lowell. On average, that’s six 9,000 gallon deliveries per day, 12 trips total in a day, 365 days a year. Purportedly, the plant will not run all days of the year, so on some days there will be no increase in traffic from water deliveries, but on others, the number will be greater than 6 deliveries. That’s on top of the diesel deliveries (18 per day or more when running on diesel), ammonia deliveries, and other materials needed, should the facility be built.
Of another particular concern is the offramp from 495 to Woburn Street, which is steep, short, and in which several accidents have occured. On a wet or snowy day, or even a sunny dry one, this ramp is dangerous even to regular traffic. Tanker trucks much more so. At the base of the ramp is a dense South Lowell neighborhood. And besides the danger, there’s also the increased air pollution from so many more trucks.
Where are the Lowell officials on this? Clearly Lowell is investing in South Lowell, evidenced by the Ducharme Park renovation. It’s regrettable that its value to the city will be greatly diminished by tanker traffic that does not belong on a residential street.
If you care about this issue, take action. Call City Manager Bernard Lynch and State Senator Steven Panagiotakos, and write to the Lowell City Council, and tell them to publicly oppose this proposal. South Lowell does not need more traffic, and certainly not tanker traffic at that.
[Paige has been invited to blog occasionally about the Billerica Power Plant and other power plant concerns around our area. She is part of the billericapowerplant.org neighborhood activist group.]
The Lowell L’Energia power plant is coming back online soon, and the developer is planning “to construct an additional 95-megawatt, gas-turbine plant” on that same 4.5 acre site. Lowell needs to start asking tough questions of its officials.
The L’Energia facility(s) would be another peaking plant, which is one that runs at times of peak demand for the grid. In general, the operation of these plants can’t be directly correlated with energy use or demand in Lowell or neighboring communities. In fact, it’s ISO-NE that determines when peaking plants come on line. ISO-NE is a non-profit whose purpose is to control the flow of electricity within New England from various sources (like L’Energia and the proposed plant in Billerica) to where there is demand, which may well not be in the same area.
There is a glut of capacity in New England and information from ISO-NE bears this out. Just because demand is predicted to rise in New England does not mean these new facilities are needed. The developer wants you to draw that conclusion from his statements. Now, in advance of increased regional demand, is the right time to invest in and actively develop “green” energy production, not continue building new fossil fuel-burning “peaking” plants.
Part of the justification for these new facilities is that older, dirtier facilities will go offline. Not true says ISO-NE. An article last week about the proposed Brockton plant shows squarely the public relations scam the developers are attempting.
It’s a key part of the argument for building a power plant in Brockton — that older, dirtier plants will be phased out, thanks in part to the new facility.
But according to the company that oversees power distribution in New England, there’s no guarantee this will happen.
The peaking facility in Billerica, if built, along with L’Energia and the second proposed peak generator on Tanner Street will degrade air quality, increase traffic and noise, and present significant safety risks to Lowell residents. Hopefully the Lowell City Council and City Manager will look out for the residents who live and breathe in Lowell. Adding on so much pollution in a small area is quite disconcerting and should not be tolerated. How much of a compromise to the health and safety of Lowell residents is acceptable given that there is no pressing demand for power in this area?
The developer of L’Energia, DG Clean Power, will be at the Sacred Heart School, 122 Andrews Street, South Lowell, on Monday, April 14, 2008 at 7PM to answer questions that residents may have. This is open to the public.
There are a couple Q&A or forums coming up in regards to the proposed power plant in Billerica and the L’Energia plant which is not yet online on Tanner St in Lowell. Residents should come and ask their questions.
Monday, April 14, 2008, 7PM
Joe Fitzpatrick of DG Clean Power will be discussing the L’Energia plant, due to go online shortly. L’Energia is on Tanner Street in Lowell, just off of the Plain Street Exit off of the Connector. This is an opportunity to see and hear the person and company behind the proposed plant in North Billerica. Residents from all communities are invited. Holy Family Parish Center (formerly Sacred Heart School), 122 Andrews Street, South Lowell
Q&A with DG Clean Power and EH&E
Thursday, April 17, 2008, 7PM
The public will have an opportunity to ask questions of the developer and the environmental consulting firm at a forum in Billerica. The format is yet to be announced. Residents from all communities are strongly urged to attend. This may be the only opportunity to ask questions of the parties involved directly. Billerica Town Hall, Auditorium, 365 Boston Road, Billerica.
Governor Patrick was in town today to attend Marty Meehan’s inauguration as Chancellor of UMass-Lowell. I was offered the chance to sit down with the Governor for a half hour and just chat.
Proposed Billerica Power Plant
One of the first things I really wanted to talk about was energy. First, in the form of dealing with the proposed Billerica power plant, which is of such a local concern. Right now, the proposal is up before the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB). Once upon a time, the EFSB never failed to site a new power plant, though the Governor mentioned that recently, they had. Which could be an interesting precedent. Governor Patrick has recently met with grassroots opponents of a proposed Brockton plant:
After meeting with opponents of the proposed Brockton power plant at his office Wednesday, Gov. Deval Patrick said he doesn’t believe the plant will produce “clean” energy, as claimed by the company behind the project.
In his first public comments on the project, Patrick said he would prefer not to have to build facilities such as the gas- and diesel-burning plant proposed by Brockton Power Co.
“The administration is seeking to maximize energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy opportunities to meet our growing power needs,” Patrick said in a statement. “That will reduce the number of new fossil-fuel power plants like this one to a minimum.”
The Governor also spoke about a bill going through the legislature right now which seeks to increase energy efficiency. When I asked him whether that was about efficiency in generating power, or in end-use, he said both. (I believe this might be the bill.) In reference to my concern about the peak power plant proposed for Billerica, he said, “What [this bill] does do is create some incentives to emphasize efficiency, and Ian Bowles, our Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs and his team believe that the efficiencies make peak power plants unnecessary.”
I also wanted to talk energy efficiency and renewable energy with consumer incentives. I’m a big fan of incentivizing consumers rather than directly subsidizing or giving tax breaks to corporations. As evidenced by the 100-year-old tax exemption on telephone polls, or the bloated corporate welfare federal farm subsidies (better to call them Big Agri subsidies if you ask me), once you give an incentive to a corporation, however well-meaning, it often sticks around long after it’s needed because industry can afford to buy politicians.
Governor Patrick was already one step ahead of me. He informed me of the Renewable Energy Trust and Commonwealth Solar, a fund which gives significant rebates for installing renewable energy on your own residence or business property. In fact, this post would have been written and published a while ago except I got all oooh-shiny playing around at their website. The rebates for eligible residents or businesses are quite significant. (For instance, if we ended up qualifying, we would get an $8,250 dollar 1.5 KW solar panel system for only $2,250, according to their calculator. They are not yet tax-exempt (meaning the rebate is considered taxable income) but they are trying to attain tax-exempt status for the program. It took me a while to figure out all the details but it was worth it. Patrick says there’s funding still available in the program currently and encourages people to apply.
Patrick also mentioned that there are programs to help you purchase energy-efficient appliances, boilers, and water heaters. It’s called MassSave.
Of course, I think it’s a great start, but we will need to keep growing the carrot-and-stick approach until all of us have made every transition humanly possible.
Patrick’s knowledge of existing technology for increasing efficiency was pretty amazing. He rattled off information about equipment that can determine when is the most efficient time to run your appliances (such as a dishwasher) and even turn these things on in the middle of the night. One of the things us bloggers found endearing about Patrick as a candidate was his wonkish knowledge of whatever issue was in front of him. That certainly hasn’t changed.
I brought up the Commonwealth Care cost increases during our talk, and Governor Patrick did say that he does not think that “the Commonwealth Care net increase was in the double digits after all” but that “the fact that we have to debate this hard [about the cost increases of the state program] every year, about where the prices are going to be, doesn’t resolve the uncertainty and anxiety people have about health care costs…the shared responsibility, which I think is the good news about our reform, is under stress right now. People, individuals, have been asked to contribute more, and we’re still working out what more businesses should contribute, what more the state should contribute.” Later, he told me, “but there is still a need for the federal government to get involved and to be part of the solution.”
Near the end of our talk, I asked Patrick what his vision was going forward. I think I’ll just quote him and let you read it.
[The green energy sector] is on the verge of becoming the 10th largest economic sector in the Commonwealth, 15,000 jobs…we’re working on this, and the energy bill is a big part of this. It’s got some great stuff in it. Secretary Bowles has done a wonderful job in working with the Senate and the House to get some good things out of this…Our focus all along is how we create good jobs at good wages, not just in the neighborhood within 128 but all around the state.
And acknowledging that there is an awful lot of economic anxiety out there right now, we’re putting together some elements of a stimulus initiative here in the short term.
When I asked him how the state would be able to afford such programs to stimulate the economy:
First of all, we have several bond bills coming through the legislature. That’s a seperate capital budget, we’ve developed a five year capital spending plan. Based on an affordability analysis we have showed that not just to the legislature but to the ratings agencies, Moody’s and S&P; they’ve blessed it. They’ve said, oh, we’ve never seen a five-year plan before, yes you can afford this, all the bond bills are based on that….All in, it’s about $14 billion plus over five years. There is investment in transportation; in affordable and public housing; in public higher ed, every single campus…every single community college and state college in Massachusetts…environmental, in terms of acquisition of open space and reinvesting in maintaining the open space we have. General government bond bills as well. So all of that…we’re looking at ready-to-go projects, projects where we can put money in the next 90-180 days, to start priming the pump, is the point.
That’s in the short run. We also think we can refinance, because our credit rating is great and we can still get access to credit at good rates as a state, unlike many businesses right now…we think we can refinance some transportation debt and get cash out of the money that’s already been authorized, and plow that back into roads and bridge projects around the Commonwealth…I’m talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. All in the next 90-180 days, so we get a lot of activity around the [state].
Then the longer term or medium term stuff; the Life Sciences bill is out of the House and Senate and is in conference…I hope to be able to sign that in about three weeks’ time, same with the energy bill. And we are looking at something that we’re [temporarily] calling “Growth Districts”…if you think of the Devons area, which is a very successful development site for us, because it’s planned, it’s pre-permitted, the utilities are in, and you can sell it as a place to get into business fast. We’ve identified I think about 16 mini-Devonses around the Commonwealth, where we can or have planned, can or will pre-permit, and the utilities are there…in many cases, brown sites. We’re very much focused on Gateway Cities as the economic hub for the regions.
So I’m going to be talking about those as well…and when I say medium term, I don’t mean years away from now, I mean within the next twelve months, we start moving projects into those places.
We have had some pretty serious differences. (I have no idea if Gov. Patrick ever read some of my anti-casino tirades or not.) But more than saying let bygones be bygones, he seemed interested in moving forward. I hope that this is a sign of his reconnection to the grassroots. I have to say I’m very encouraged.
On my way out, I stopped by where members of Greater Lowell for Peace and Justice were holding signs. (Pelosi was at the Meehan event, and this was an opportunity to protest the ongoing war.) I talked to a couple friends about my half hour with the Governor. One of them works in the public health sector. For what it’s worth, she said, the difference in working with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health since Patrick was sworn in is like night and day. It’s not glamorous, no one in the media bothers to talk about it, but his replacements for Romney appointees really care about making government work, and have made a huge difference in getting her job done. This is a story I’ve heard more than a few times, and it deserves recognition.
It matters who you elect. It always matters.
Oh, and I’ll say that, at times, very infrequently, Governor Patrick almost talks as fast as I do. How the hell does anyone understand me when I’m speaking? Honestly…
Citizens that are opposed to the proposed Billerica Power Plant will be holding an informational session on Wednesday, March 19, 2008, at 7PM at the Sacred Heart School (map). The public is invited to attend. The citizens will share publicly available information about the plant with neighbors. Concerns include air quality, safety water and noise.
With respect to the introduction to the power plant that was posted here previously, several great topics of discussion were raised. There are many reasons people are opposing the plant. Each reason is based in that person’s perspective, which should be respected. Some are not bothered at the prospect at all, which is fine. My goal is not to convince you. My goal is to share publicly available information with you so that you can make your own decision. The developer will try to convince you via mailings, full-page newspaper ads, and large headlines that are not endorsed by the people they are quoting (see image to the right). But, they have a job to do and certainly have a right to earn a living. For my part, I have a right to protect the health and safety of my family.
Unlike the developer, I did not fly over the area where I chose to live in a helicopter to survey the land. While the area has some industrial zoning, I did not realize it was an ideal place to put a power plant when I looked for a place to buy a home. A quick look at the zoning maps of the area reveals that there is dense residential development surrounding the entire site.
There is also not a demonstrated need for power in this area. The threat of rolling blackouts has been held up by the developer as a reason this plant is needed. This plant is an energy “insurance policy for the future” they claim. I say, beware of insurance salesmen. Those in the industry will tell you blackouts occur because of infrastructure failures, not because there is not enough power generating capacity.
For those that question or downplay the health impacts of this facility, here’s the scoop. There are health effects. Even the experts will tell you that, if you listen closely to what they say in this clip (large audio MP3 file) from the Billerica Selectmen meeting, March 3, 2008. They talk of a continuum for health effects, and make clear that it’s not binary – even if the plant is at or below the required limit, it’s still generating pollution, which is still being pumped into the air, and which will impact the health of residents around that plant. The EPA’s own scientists were just overruled in their call for more strict air quality standards. The environmental consulting firm evaluating this plant proposal will tell you they would like to see tighter “standards”. The developer jumps up and down screaming that they “meet” the standards. But remember, a standard is an acceptable limit- a balance struck between the needs of business and the tolerance of the public.
Is one more case of pediatric asthma acceptable? Is one more heart attack acceptable? What if that is your child or your father?
You can listen to my Thinking Out Loud interview from last Friday with security consultant Fred Marcks, where we discuss the Billerica power plant and what you are not hearing from the company who wants to build it. (Podcast also available on billericapowerplant.org). Fred is a former EPA employee and now an independent consultant, and it was a very interesting interview.
Remember, there is an informational session on the power plant tomorrow, Wednesday March 19, at 7pm at the Sacred Heart School, 122 Andrews Street, in south Lowell (directions). Fred Marcks and others will be there to answer your questions, and whether you are already doubtful about the plant or not, you are welcome and encouraged to attend.
Today on Thinking Out Loud, we’ll be talking to Fred Marcks, a member of a neighborhood group opposed to the proposed Billerica plant. He’ll talk about the many reasons that the plant poses risks to all the surrounding towns.
You can tune in on WUML 91.5FM at 10am, or listen online live.
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