A fossil fuel project is the last thing we need in face of climate crisis
Re “Amid push for cleaner future, a blast from the past in Mass.: ‘Peaker’ power plant draws opposition” (Page A1, Nov. 24): I’ll accept the plea of Kate Roy, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company, when she says, “We’re not the bad guys.” So let’s work together, being honest about shared responsibilities for our future.
The fight over the proposed Peabody “peaker” plant, which is designed to operate during peak demand for electricity, is a microcosm of the urgent global fight against climate disaster. Here’s one bedrock principle in that fight: To preserve a livable climate, the science shows that we simply cannot build any new fossil fuel infrastructure. Zero. Even allowing the existing carbon-emitting power plants and pipelines to serve out their expected lifespans, using fossil fuel supplies already developed, collides with the guardrail of 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures — a dangerous mark that scientists see the earth approaching fast.
The Massachusetts climate law’s small net-zero offset escape hatch must not be used by electricity generators like Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric to delay decarbonization today. Counting on offsets carries substantial ethical and technical risks. Whatever role these offsets might play in future decades must be held in reserve for those few sectors of the economy, such as aviation and manufacturing, that are fundamentally harder to decarbonize than electricity generation.
Meanwhile, ISO New England’s it’s-not-our-job shrug about clean energy, continuing to exclude environmental considerations in electricity wholesaling, makes painfully clear why its system needs an overhaul. It needs to include the true costs of fossil fuels and benefits of clean energy. Fortunately there’s a growing campaign for this too.
We now have ongoing, rapid cost and performance advances in renewable energy and storage, continued energy efficiency progress, and “peak shaving” programs to encourage customers to shift energy use to off-peak times. These are the directions in which we need to move. We don’t need to saddle our state and future generations with a new unnecessary gas-powered plant.
Arguments from power industry, state officials ring hollow
Thank you to David Abel and the Globe for publishing a story on the controversy surrounding the proposed Peabody power plant (“Amid push for cleaner future, a blast from the past in Mass.”). This article presented both sides in the debate of whether to proceed with building this fossil-fuel power plant at a time when the state must drastically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to meet its climate goals. However, the arguments coming from the power industry and the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs ring hollow.
First, it defies belief that the state agency charged with protecting our health and environment can do nothing, on the grounds that the project was previously permitted. The plan has yet to receive full environmental and health impact reviews, despite the energy company’s claims of a “rigorous” process.
Further, the notion that the alternative of a battery plant isn’t feasible, whether true or not at the time the project started six years ago, is clearly not the case now.c A study conducted by Clean Energy Group has shown that a battery plant for “peaker” power is not only feasible; it’s also considerably cheaper. The Globe’s readers need to understand why this project needs to be shut down — for the health of our pocketbooks, our citizens, and our planet.
The writer is a leader of the King’s Chapel Environmental Action Initiative.
Whole-house batteries would be a greener backup alternative
I appreciated David Abel’s article regarding the opposition to the proposed Peabody “peaker” power plant (tongue twister not intended), but I believe the discussion somewhat misses a much greener opportunity.
In other parts of the country, utilities in need of peak power are subsidizing whole-house batteries as the solution. These are wall-hung devices typically installed in a garage or basement, and they are often associated with solar installations but can be entirely independent. They are fully charged during normal electrical demand, but the utilities that encourage them use the stored power as a cheaper alternative power source to fulfill the extra needs of peak demand, typically each late afternoon and early evening when customers come home, turn on more lights, and do their cooking.
The use of whole-house batteries for peak power does not negate the important advantage to customers of having emergency backup power when the utility lines are shut down in a storm emergency (something that is becoming more common during climate change). For many outages, the capacity of the battery may last up to a day or more and is often enough to carry the customer through the emergency.
When the emergency is a little longer than a few hours or a day, and in the absence of a home solar array, a simple generator can recharge the house battery in a relatively short time and then the generator can be shut off, contributing to a greater sense of peace and quiet for one’s neighbors.
I see these discussions as part of moving to a smarter grid that would carry power more efficiently and cooperatively to more partners as we move to more electric-driven heat pumps and electric cars and a greener future.
As part of that future, I am considering one of these whole-house battery devices even before being able to add solar. I only wish my utility would see the opportunity to support it as an alternative to wasteful, often off-line “peak” power plants.
This is not an acceptable municipal solution
Charged to serve the consumer-owned municipal utilities of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company kept its consumer-owners in the dark about its plan to build an $85 million fossil-fueled “peaker” plant in Peabody that will belch its emissions onto nearby neighborhoods and into the atmosphere.
A better way to spend $85 million to guarantee electricity during peak demand would be to do the following: Subsidize large electricity users’ installation of demand-response systems that automatically reduce loads during peak demand, help residents and small businesses insulate and purchase energy-efficient appliances, and incentivize the purchase of battery-storage systems by households and businesses that can be tapped as the grid approaches peak demand, as Green Mountain Power in Vermont already does, saving its customers millions every year.
Those strategies would offer greater comfort, lower costs, cleaner air, and the flexibility to use future clean-energy solutions. The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company is mired in the past.