Brockton vows to keep fighting plant

Power company says it, too, not about to give up

By Michele Morgan Bolton
Globe Correspondent / August 7, 2011

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Brockton’s elected leaders are continuing to thumb their noses at an international power company set on building a $350 million natural gas-fired power plant in the city.

Developers at Brockton Clean Energy, part of the Swiss giant Advanced Power AG, say that the proposed site for their plant has been zoned for such use for a decade, and that city efforts to put them off are illegal.

Those efforts include a City Council that refuses to hear a request to sell treated effluent to cool the plant’s towers, and other city departments that won’t grant needed permits, including one for a switchyard in an area zoned for “public utility structures.’’

“The city cannot simply refuse to process or reject permit applications without review,’’ said project manager Jonathan Winslow. “Such actions violate both state law and the city’s own ordinances.’’

About the only thing the two sides agree on is that a final decision will have to be made in court - where both sides say they are confident they will prevail.

“People have a right to clean air and water,’’ said City Councilor-at-Large Tom Brophy. “It’s in the Constitution.’’

The impasse drew attention again recently after the state Department of Environmental Protection approved the plant’s air quality permit, ruling that hundreds of projected jobs and millions in expected tax benefits from the project outweigh its minimal environmental or health risks.

The agency also rejected the city’s primary argument that the plant would be located in an Environmental Justice neighborhood, meaning its effects would unfairly burden large populations of poor and/or minority residents.

The decision said the Oak Hill Industrial Park, where the plant would be built, has no residents and the closest neighborhoods are “1,000 feet to the west, 1,700 feet to the north, and 2,100 feet to the east.’’

But Brophy called the determination “laughable’’ and said a housing development is located within 800 feet of the site, and an elementary school is 1,500 feet away.

“It doesn’t surprise me that the bureaucrats at the DEP would rule this way,’’ he said.

Brockton has spent close to $400,000 in legal fees to fight the plant, and Mayor Linda Balzotti affirmed last week that the city remains committed to all its arguments.

That’s confounding, said Brockton Building Trades business manager Bill DeMello, at a time when the recession has nearly 40 percent of his 10,000 union members out of work.

“The politicians in Brockton don’t seem to understand that people are losing their homes and families are breaking up over this,’’ DeMello said.

He said he’s confident the courts will rule in the plant’s favor and it’s just a matter of time before it is built.

In June, the state Energy Facilities Siting Board banned Brockton Clean Energy from using the city’s clean water supply to cool its towers, citing potential impact on its source, Kingston’s Silver Lake.

And because the city has refused to consider selling treated effluent from its wastewater treatment plant, the power company filed a notice of reconsideration with the state siting panel and confirmed last week that it would buy water from the Aquaria Desalinization Plant in Dighton if the state doesn’t change its mind.

Under the pending deal, Brockton Clean Energy would pay Aquaria for an average of 1.1 million gallons per day and up to 2 million gallons a day in peak periods. Water would be delivered via a dedicated three-mile pipeline from Aquaria to the plant, rather than through the city’s pipes, officials said.

If the state approves the idea, the company would pay another $100,000 per year to help protect the Silver Lake ecosystem, according to court papers.

While Brockton draws 10 million daily gallons from Silver Lake, it also pays $5 million a year in an unbreakable 20-year deal for drinking water from Aquaria that it doesn’t need. A number of officials, including Brophy and Councilor-at-large Jass Stewart, have been working to see whether the contract can be broken.

That Brockton Clean Energy has been negotiating behind the city’s back was news to a number of officials, and it didn’t sit well. Brophy said the action could open up a legal battlefield with Aquaria. But just announcing a partnership doesn’t mean it will happen, he said.

“Guess who would have to permit that?’’ Brophy said.

Four years into the grass-roots fight, local residents like Ed Byers of Stop The Power say opposition to the plant has become a way of life and they aren’t about to give in.

“Some people golf,’’ said Byers, who owns a salad-dressing factory next to the plant site. “This is what I do. It’s a tug-of-war and a matter of who has the stomach to stay in to the end of the game.’’

At the same time, Brockton Clean Energy says the plant will be the “cleanest, most efficient, and most flexible natural gas electric generating facility in the state.’’

After spending millions themselves, company officials say they, too, are in it for the long haul.

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at