Friday, February 13, 2009
State issues preliminary approval for new Billerica power plant
The Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board on February 4 published its tentative decision to approve construction of a 348 megawatt power plant to be located in Billerica near the intersection of Route 495 and the Concord River. The plant is to run up to 2,300 hours per year during times of peak energy demand, using natural gas as a primary fuel and a backup fuel of ultra-low sulfur diesel oil. After a seven-day period during which involved parties may comment, the board will issue a final decision. The approval is valid as long as construction begins within three years.
The Siting Board states that upon compliance with the terms of the 86-page tentative decision, “the construction and operation of the proposed project will provide a reliable energy supply for the Commonwealth with a minimum impact on the environment at the lowest possible cost.”
The board’s review process has extended over almost two years as information was gathered from the power company, Montgomery Energy Billerica Power Partners LLC (MEB) assisted by DG Clean Power LLC; from consultants; nearby residents; and the Billerica Watchers Group, an organization opposing the project.
Approval is conditional
Comments and stipulations in the decision address various issues raised during the review. Concerns included the amount of water required (roughly 60,000 gallons per year), the storage of 36,000 gallons of liquid ammonia and up to 500,000 gallons of oil to on site, as well as air pollution, traffic, noise and public safety.
The plan at first called for using gray-water effluent from the Billerica Waste Water Treatment Facility as the primary source of water, but modifications to the facility will be needed before it can supply the project. As a result, the plan was changed to rely mainly on Billerica drinking water, augmented by trucked-in water when needed. However, as part of the decision, the Siting Board is requiring that the power plant switch over to using primarily effluent within one year after the wastewater facility upgrade is completed.
To safeguard against a possible ammonia spill, the company will be required to construct a building to enclose its aqueous ammonia tanks.
The applicant’s proposed air pollution mitigation was considered sufficient and “the siting board finds that the health risks of the proposed facility related to criteria pollutant discharges to air at the MEB project would be minimized.”
The power company will be required to demonstrate that its emissions are in compliance with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) or with a carbon dioxide offset program developed by the board. According to information online at www.rggi.org/home, the RGGI is a market-based program to cap and reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Ten states in the northeast and mid-atlantic area are participating and will sell emission allowances to power plants, using the proceeds to fund clean energy programs.
Noise abatement at the Billerica plant will include construction of a ten-foot wall to block sound. The board states, “Daytime noise from the facility would be 10 dBA less than World Health Organization guidelines,” which limit “outdoor noise levels to 55 decibels during the day and 45 decibels at night.”
Originally, the plant was to be unstaffed and operated remotely, but as a safety precaution the board is requiring that the company employ security staff “on a continuous basis at or around the site.”
According to BillericaPowerPlant.org, before construction may begin, the project must also pass reviews by the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) Office and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). In addition, the Billerica Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Conservation Commission and Board of Health must weigh in on the various aspects of the project. On February 25 the Billerica Conservation Commission will continue a public hearing regarding the project’s stormwater management and impact on nearby wetlands. ∆
© 2009 The