Peaker Power Station at the center of the fight against climate change

PEABODY – Jerry Halberstadt suffers from asthma and lives about a mile from a new state-of-the-art fossil fuel-fired power plant which is being built.

He is very aware of air quality due to his diagnosis, he said. “This stuff can stop me dead. There’s an impact from burning fossil fuels.”

But more than anything, Halberstadt worries about her three grandchildren and “the wickedness that awaits them.”

In a mass action demonstration with speakers, bikers, kayakers, people singing and even flying kites, protesters converged on the Water Street Bridge between Peabody and Danvers on Thursday to bolster their opposition to the construction of a new state-of-the-art plant off Peabody’s Pulaksi Street, where two power plants electricity already exist on a riverside site.

The new plant, which has received all necessary state approvals and been given the go-ahead for construction, would be located in a environmental justice districta state designation given to areas where residents are historically vulnerable to environmental hazards.

State laws enacted since Peabody’s mill permitting process is intended to review projects as such and protect those same communities from fallout. Protesters said Thursday they are stepping up efforts to shut down the plant.

Opponents of a plan to build a new peaking power plant in Peabody demonstrated in a mass protest on Thursday, calling on Governor Charlie Baker to undertake environmental and health impact studies.

Even if opponents are unable to stop construction “we’re shutting down this fucking thing,” said Jim Mulloy, a Salem resident and climate activist. Mulloy said “non-violent civil disobedience” is “on the table now” and that “we are not giving up.”

The former MA energy secretary says:“We must integrate environmental justice into all aspects of our work.”

Susan Smoller, Peabody resident and co-founder of Breathe Clean North Shore, a group that formed in response to Project Peaker, is seeing its movement gain momentum. “We have the ear of the people,” she said.

“People need to know it hasn’t gone away. In fact, they’re moving on.”

What is a Spike Plant?

A peaking power plant, also known as a peaking power plant, is used only when there is a high or peak power demand. It is estimated that the Peabody plant will be on approximately 239 hours per year.

Why do people oppose the Peabody Peaker factory?

The situation in Peabody has taken center stage for climate activists in Massachusetts, which is now required by law to halve its emissions by 2030 and then reach net zero by 2050. Opponents believe that building a natural gas and oil-fired power plant at this stage of the game is completely contradictory to those efforts.

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Judith Black, a marble head resident and member of 350 Massthe announcer said “goes against the goals of environmental justice and our climate roadmap bill.”

The Peabody Municipal Lighting Plant plans to build a "pecking" plant adjacent to the current power plant off Pulaski Street.

If the permitting process was underway today and state climate legislation was passed last year, the project would not be approved, opponents say. They ask Governor Charlie Baker to undertake the environmental and community health studies that are now required by current law, but were not when the Peabody Peaker got his approvals.

In addition to many area residents being people of color, low income, seniors, and people with disabilities, nearby are child care centers, New England Homes for the Deaf, and MGH Danvers Hospital.

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Smoller told protesters they were asking for “due process which we have been denied.”

Mireille Bejjani, climate organizer with Community action workssaid Thursday’s response to the start of plant construction was what needed to happen to “hold Governor Baker and Secretary of Energy (Beth) Card accountable.”

“It’s not too late,” she said. “It’s never too late to make sure we protect our communities from a polluting project.”

A group called Greater Boston Doctors for Social Accountability wrote in a letter last year that the plant would “increase death rates in surrounding communities”, calling for an end to the “misguided project”.

Who finances the Peabody Peaker factory?

The whole project is estimated at 85 million dollars. Municipal power stations in 14 communities have already invested and signed 30-year contracts to receive power from the peaking station, including Peabody, Marblehead, Wakefield, Hull, Mansfield, Shrewsbury, Sterling, Boylston, West Boylston, Holden , Holyoke, Chicopee, South Hadley and Russell.

Holyoke and Chicopee have since opted out of their contracts, but have been unable to sell their shares.

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Municipalities can either buy power capacity “on call” on the open market or buy a peaking plant, like the one being built at Peabody.

Julie Smith-Galvin, councilor for Wakefield, said she first heard about the project in 2020, five years after it was proposed. She alerted the Sierra Club and other key environmental players in the state.

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Smith-Galvin was “angry and sad,” she said, that Wakefield’s municipal gas and lighting department recently voted to affirm its financial commitment to the summit, which she called ” symbol of climate inaction for generations to come”.

A recent report prepared by Strategen Consulting said municipalities could save money if they opted out of the Peabody project and instead bought power capacity in the market.

Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Companywhich builds and operates the plant, said it would lose $31 million if the project went under.

Why is the Peabody Peaker factory built?

The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company claims this peak will run cleaner and more efficiently than 94% of New England power plants today.

They say peaking plants will be essential as more renewable energy sources come online, to fill needed gaps and meet capacity constraints. For this reason, MMWEC maintains on its webpage on the project that it “aligns with the Massachusetts Decarbonization Roadmap.”

MMWEC touted modeling that indicates emissions produced if all three on-site plants were operating at the same time would be lower than federal and state ambient air quality standards. The state’s Executive Office for Energy and Environmental Affairs could have required an environmental impact statement, but decided it was not necessary, MMWEC said.

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Twenty cities and towns in Massachusetts are members of the MMWEC, including the Peabody Municipal Light Plant, which allows the company to use its land off Pulaski Street to build the project. The MMWEC says the municipalities involved in the project will be protected from price volatility and in turn will see better rates.

MMWEC did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Joe Anastasi, manager of the Peabody Municipal Lighting Plant, said the spike is in line with the entity’s goals to become carbon-free by 2050, noting that municipal lighting plants in Massachusetts have a ” diversified energy portfolio which is already 42% carbon neutral”. “

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“We are striving to be ahead of the state Department of Environmental Protection regulations for 100% net zero emissions by 2050,” Anastasi said. “As much as we would like, we just can’t get there overnight.”

Anastasi said the Peabody Peaker project “brings value to the PMLP and the region not as an ‘energy’ resource, but as a ‘capacity’ resource.”

“While power is available all the time when you plug into an outlet, capacity is the ability to step in when renewables cannot meet real-time demand and mitigate the risk to reliability,” said he declared.

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