What permits have already been granted?
The plant has submitted its Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) review application with the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs determining in 2016 that no MEPA review is necessary, but setting forth the following conditions and recommendations:
Finalization of wetland resource mapping and proceed with review by the Peabody Conservation Commission (p. 5; requirement);
An Order of Conditions from the Peabody Conservation Commission, or in the case of an appeal, a Superseding Order of Conditions from MassDEP (p.2; requirement)
Compliance with any GHG emissions reductions required by the promulgation of regulations related to the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) (p. 5, requirement);
Consideration of raising the 0.6-acre turbine site, or providing an alternative method of protection, to mitigate (ironically!) against potential climate change impacts (as the project is located near the Waters River, a tidal river susceptible to increased flood elevation due to rising sea level and increased storm intensive as "anticipated effects of climate change" (p. 5, recommendation).
The plant was issued an Air Quality Permit which the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in September 2020 under a Non-Major Comprehensive Plan Approval Application that does not require a public hearing. Interestingly. The Draft Air Quality Permit was released in August 2020 with a 30 day review period that closed on September 21, 2020.
What permits are still needed to build the plant?
The plant must still comply with #1 through 3 above under conditions set forth by the Secretary of EEA. Recent calls to the Peabody Conservation Committee revealed they had no immediate knowledge of the project, so we assume it will be on a future agenda.
At the November Wakefield Municipal Light Plant Board meeting, an MMWEC representative was asked about additional required permits. He indicated that permission is required from the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities in order for MMWEC to issue a bond to finance the construction. No meeting currently appears on the DPU docket.
Update: MMWEC filed its petition on March 3rd asking the state to allow it to take on $170 million in debt for the project. The docket number is 21-29 and can be searched for here.
When is the project expected to be complete?
Dates vary in the publicly filed materials. Some indicate commercial operation as early as June 2021. When questioned at the WMGLD meeting, an MMWEC representation indicated it is to be online by summer 2022. Regardless, all permitting must be complete before construction can begin, which is why focusing on permit timing is critical to the project's ability to move forward.
What is a stranded asset and why should we worry?
Power plants typically last 30 to 50 years, and construction costs are paid off over the course of their lifespans. A bill to make Massachusetts 100% clean energy by 2045 sits in the legislature while President-elect Biden has called for 100% clean energy by 2035. Either of these policies would make the operation of the Peabody plant impracticable if not illegal as early as 15 years from now, leaving Wakefield and other towns on the hook to cover the debt, while also having to pay for whatever source of energy or capacity replaces it. Ratepayers in the MLP districts that have signed the contract for the Peaker Plant would be stuck with a stranded asset.
To put it in perspective, a study just published in the journal Science mapped out every coal-, gas-, or petroleum-powered generator running in the U.S. in 2018, the most recent year for which complete data was available. The study's author, Emily Grubert of Georgia Tech, found that the vast majority of fossil plants — more than 70 percent — will actually reach the end of their expected lifespans before 2035, and should theoretically be paid off by or around then, making it easier for officials to make the policy change to clean energy.
Why did MCAN file for Intervenor Status with DPU?
On April 7, 2021, MCAN filed for Intervenor Status with the Department of Public Utilities regarding Special Project 2015A, the official title of the Peabody Peaker Plant. Intervenor Status allows entities to be formally involved in the DPU permitting process and allows those entities to raise issues by presenting briefs and making discoveries, and granting access to all the readings. MCAN is seeking Intervenor Status because MCAN is committed to ensuring our municipal light plants are climate innovators, pushing on clean energy, renewable energy and energy efficiency programs. MCAN wants to use Intervenor Status to raise these possibilities for the peaker plant. The timeframe for DPU to decide CAN's request for Intervenor Status is not clear, and depends on how many other entities request Intervenor Status. Stay tuned!