July 6, 2008
Billerica Power-Plant Fight Centers on Water Use
By Jennifer Myers, The Sun, Lowell, Mass.
Jul. 6--BILLERICA --Developers of the proposed 348-megawatt Billerica Energy Center have filed a notice of intent with the town to kick the wheels of local permitting into gear, but the permitting process at the state level has been stalled.On Wednesday, representatives from DG Clean Power and their lawyers, including former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, will go before the state's Energy Facilities Siting Board to discuss water-consumption issues related to the plant.
The board closed its hearings on the project last November, but have not made a ruling. The hearings on water resources were reopened after a request by the Billerica Watchers Group, which was formed by residents to oppose the power plant.
The Billerica Watchers Group was granted legal intervenor status at the state level last year.
"We are going to conduct an evidentiary hearing to discuss water resources, water being purchased from the town and truck deliveries," said Tim Shevlin, executive director of the state Department of Public Utilities. "There was a post-hearing discovery of a letter from the applicant to the town changing the source of water supply, so we are going to examine this proposal and these issues."
Joe Fitzpatrick, DG Clean Power's chief executive officer, said there has been no change to the plan.
The proposal, Fitzpatrick said, always included three potential water plans: using "gray" water from the wastewater-treatment plant, trucking in water, and
purchasing water from the town.
The current proposal calls for the plant to purchase 40 million gallons of water from the town each year to control pollution and cool the plant's turbines.
The gas-fired power plant, proposed for land owned by Baker Commodities off Billerica Avenue, will need 60 million gallons of water annually, trucking in the remaining 20 million gallons.
"There are water issues. We don't have the resources," said Billerica Watchers President Ed Camplese. "The Concord River cannot take it and Billerica will have to hook up to an alternative water source. Our rates will go sky-high."
The state Department of Environmental Protection permits the town to withdraw 1.9 billion gallons from the river annually through 2011.
According to a report by Camp, Dresser, McKee, the town's consulting engineers, Billerica will exceed the withdrawal limits under the existing permit by 2011 without the additional demand of the power plant.
Frederick Holland, senior vice president of Camp, Dresser, McKee, recommends that the plant provide $1 million in water-infrastructure improvements, as well as retrofitting 3,000 Billerica homes with low-flow showerheads and toilets, at an estimated cost of $1.4 million.
Fitzpatrick said mitigating the impact of the entire 40 million gallons is "entirely feasible."
"We want complete and comprehensive studies of flow and effect on the Concord River," Camplese said. "The bottom line is with complete and comprehensive studies, the people of the town will be the ones paying for the (plant) to come in."
Additionally, Environmental Health and Engineering, the town's environmental health consultants on the project, released its final report and recommendations last week.
Environmental Health scientists concluded that the plant "will comply with all environmental regulations and is unlikely to cause or contribute to an exceedance of pollution if operated in accordance with its stated intent," but did call for additional environmental impact and mitigation work to be done.
Fitzpatrick said some of the recommendations made, including conducting a more comprehensive assessment of current soil and groundwater contamination at the proposed site, falls under the auspices of the Department of Environmental Protection and the Energy Facilities Siting Board.
Mitigation measures proposed by the consultants include limiting plant operations to 13 hours per day, providing funding for school-bus fuel and emission systems to reduce emissions of diesel particulate matter and exposure to children, and offsetting greenhouse gas emissions by exploring energy-efficiency opportunities in municipal and residential buildings throughout the town.
"There is nothing in the report that is non-negotiable," said Fitzpatrick. "The major health criteria are there and we have met them. If people want further mitigation, we are open to having those discussions."
"As long as we can commercially sell our power, we have never opposed limiting our 2,300 hours," he added.
Fitzpatrick said that no hearings have been scheduled yet with town boards. However, he does have a preliminary meeting with the Planning Board on July 28.
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