A proposal to build a power plant in Walpole is dividing residents, even after selectmen told the plant's sponsor, Competitive Power Ventures Inc., to forget the idea because the plant was not welcome.
While some Walpole residents vehemently oppose the plant, others, including about two dozen who met with CPV representatives at the East Walpole Civic Association meeting last Wednesday, have come to think that the power plant is a good idea - an economic boost for the town. They would like to see selectmen rethink their opposition.
Supporters of the 570-megawatt gas-fired plant see promise in the revenue it would generate - at least $28 million over 20 years, according to CPV estimates.
Former selectwoman Sue Maguire of East Walpole organized the Wednesday forum on the proposal, which sparked heated debate on local blogs and in letters to the editors of local newspapers.
The town's decision to reject the power plant proposal doesn't reflect the views of all residents, she argued. Selectmen are simply being controlled by a handful of residents who loudly oppose the plant, she said.
"The board was inundated with e-mails and calls, and they just buckled under," Maguire said. "All people want is to talk about it. There is nothing wrong with this business."
Responding to some concerns about the safety of the plant, she said permits and regulations would dictate how the plant is run to "within an inch of its life."
Officials from CPV, which is based in Silver Spring, Md., and maintains an office in Braintree, hope such arguments will persuade Walpole's officials and other residents to embrace the proposed South Walpole plant. It would employ 20 to 25 people and provide as many as 400 construction jobs, they said.
But opponents have decried the proposed 250-foot smokestacks, the amount of town water it would use, and risks they perceive in storing the plant's fuel over the town's aquifer.
Town Administrator Michael Boynton said officials' rejection of the plant was supported by a public outcry, including a Nov. 27 meeting in which hundreds expressed concerns about the $500 million project.
"Of the 580 people there, not one stood up to say, 'This is a great idea,' " he said.
Selectmen's rejection of the plant does not guarantee it cannot be built in town. CPV can plead its case to the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board, which could override the town.
For now, CPV remains persistent in its efforts to move forward. Project spokesman Scott Farmelant of Mills and Company, a public relations agency based in Boston, said Wednesday's meeting in East Walpole was just one in a series of community get-togethers meant to put concerns to rest.
"CPV welcomes the opportunity to get community feedback, as that information helps shape the project to be the best it can be," he said.
Supporters argue that the town infrastructure can handle the power plant. Walpole is using less than half of the 7 million gallons of ground water it is permitted daily, leaving plenty for use by the plant. CPV proposes to use 125,000 gallons a day and buy another 2 million gallons from the town to store in above-ground tanks for an emergency supply.
CPV officials also said the company would spend $3 million on sewer connections that residents of South Walpole would be free to tie into, and another $5 million on town fees, permits, and inspections. The company has offered to pay Walpole $2 million a year for 20 years in lieu of taxes, while funneling cash annually into an escrow account to decommission the plant once its life span ends.
On the environmental safety front, plant supporters argue that it would release only a minuscule amount of particulate matter into the environment.
Such arguments are not swaying neighboring towns such as Foxborough and Wrentham, which have joined Walpole's elected officials in opposing CPV's plan. Sharon officials are watching and waiting.
Meanwhile, an amendment passed by the state Senate, and awaiting House approval, would prevent power plants from being built within a mile of a school, home, playground, day-care center, house of worship, or any other place of environmental concern.
Seeking to insulate themselves from future power plant proposals, Walpole officials set a Special Town Meeting for March 10 to discuss zoning clarifications that ban "noxious uses" on industrial land. A May warrant item is in place, if needed, to make that ban explicit.
Though some Walpole residents have expressed support of the plant, town officials haven't budged in their opposition, prompting George Grunbeck, CPV's vice president of operations, to say: "Now we just need to try to get the Board of Selectmen to talk to us.'
Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org