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Clean-Energy Advocates Urge MassDEP to Deny Pittsfield Plant Permit
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
08:30AM / Wednesday, December 08, 2021
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The natural gas-fired Pittsfield co-generating power plant on Merrill Road. Environmentalists and local groups are pushing for so-called 'peak' plants to switch to cleaner energy use.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — State officials, residents, and representatives from various organizations requested Tuesday night that the permit for a power-generating facility be denied or made provisional to make way for cleaner solutions such as grid energy storage.

About two dozen people attended the public hearing held virtually by the state Department of Environmental Protection for Pittsfield Generating Co.'s facility located to 235 Merrill Road. The company is seeking an Air Quality Operating Permit.

A draft permit was issued on Nov. 17 and if approved, it would renew operations for five years.

"Clearly this is the moment we need to be acting as robustly as possible in kind of redirecting our use of peaker plants and making sure we're doing everything we can to reduce our emissions and standing up for environmental justice communities," state Senator Adam Hinds said.

"And it starts right here one permit at a time, one plant at a time, one community at a time."

A "Zoom bomber," or many, interrupted testimonies at various points during the hearing.

Berkshire Environmental Action Team has led the movement with a campaign "Put Peakers in the Past" demanding that the three peaking power plants located in Berkshire County revert to only renewable and clean alternatives.

"The facility is considered to be a major source since it has the potential to emit greater than major source thresholds for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide, though actual emissions are much lower," Marc Simpson, MassDEP's section chief for the Western Regional Office Air Program, said.

"A major source is subject to the operating permit program and compliance program. Pursuant to 310 CMR 7 Appendix C is required to obtain the maintain an air operating permit, renewing this permit every five years. An air operating permit is a compilation of all air emission standards and control requirements in the federal and Massachusetts air quality regulations that apply to the facility, it does not impose any additional substantive requirements to control or reduce emissions and it does not have any influence on the facility's ability to continue operating."

Hinds and state Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier and Paul Mark spoke on the importance of clean energy solutions.

"If there's something that I've learned in being in the state Legislature, it's that far too often it's the case it feels like impacted communities do not have the ability to have their voice heard, or once it has been heard to see the tangible actions taken, including when it involves very real public health issues and very real public health implications," Hinds said.

There is an inherent disconnect in the stated and now legal requirements related to environmental justice, he added, along with the environment emission reductions and the continued operation of peaker plants.

He also said the amount of people speaking on clean energy alternatives proves that there is a disconnect between where technology is and the continued reliance on power plants.

Farley-Bouvier pointed out that the plant directly abuts a neighborhood and referenced BEAT's data that reported a life expectancy difference of 10 to 12 years in the surrounding area.

"Pittsfield is not only my hometown, it's where I grew up, where I represent now, and I know these neighborhoods," she said.

"A very important fact for you to understand is that the life expectancy within different neighborhoods of Pittsfield can be a difference of 10 to 12 years with a difference of a few blocks. How is this possible but in one community, just a few blocks away there can be such a difference?"

She also highlighted the state's decarbonization roadmap that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 85 percent by 2050 and achieve net-zero emissions.  In the spring, Governor Charlie Baker signed the Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy into law that upholds these priorities.

To achieve this, all 200 members of the Legislature came together virtually to discuss solutions for the future of the planet.

"Taking down these peaker plants is literally, I'm not kidding you, the best bang for our buck in being able to reduce those emissions," Farley-Bouvier said. "Getting those peaker plants to convert to battery storage is more cost-effective, and most importantly the best thing we can do for our climate."

Mark seconded his colleagues' sentiments and added that he has been receiving a lot of feedback from constituents about the plant.

BEAT Executive Director Jane Winn and No Fracked Gas in Mass Program Director Rosemary Wessel said the permit should not be renewed for five more years when the state's climate roadmap is in effect.

They also said what while permits are renewed every five years, regulations are reviewed every 10 years.

As outlined in a press release, BEAT wants: the DEP to deny permit renewal for any remaining peaker plants or at a bare minimum allow provisional "sunset" permits of a couple of years as they phase out and convert to clean energy and storage systems, Pittsfield Generating to replace this peaker plant with grid storage from clean energy and to see DEP enforce its own emissions reductions goals.

"DEP should not be allowing five more years of emissions, especially when alternatives for short-term peak supply, like grid-scale storage, are available and are already being undertaken by the other Berkshire County peaker plants," Wessel said.

"They currently have plans to convert by the end of 2023, so it is technically possible for them to do so."

Winn said the DEP does not have regulations planned to protect residents and the planet.

"Fossil fuel peaking power plants like Pittsfield generating, which is over 30 years old and runs less than 10 percent of the time, tend to put out a lot more greenhouse gas emissions per megawatt-hour of electric generation," she explained.

"It appears the DEP's regulations have not been designed to protect the environment by making sure that these higher polluting facilities be the first to close or transition to clean energy, especially as DEP claims to be considering environmental justice issues."

Local physician Dr. Henry Rose spoke to the plant's direct proximity to Allendale Elementary School and it's closeness to an environmental justice community.

"Toxic conditions including PM 2.5 nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides are known contributors to cardiac and pulmonary diseases, and replacing the plant with battery storage and green energy is a matter of public health," he said.

"Several local boards of health including Pittsfield, Lanesborough, Dalton, Lenox, Lee, and West Stockbridge have endorsed transitioning the plant, the Next Generation Roadmap Act, as mentioned, which was passed by our state government, stipulates that emissions must be reduced by 50 percent by 2030, this must be a strong consideration for DEP and whether to remove the air quality permit for Pittsfield Generating, we have the technology to replace such plants."

Frank Farkas of the Berkshire Democratic Bridges brought up similar points and asked why DEP was considering renewing its permit when it is the agency charged with environmental protection.

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