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BROCKTON

New obstacle to power plant

State board says no to cooling plan

By Michele Morgan Bolton
Globe Correspondent / June 16, 2011

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A four-year-plus effort to locate a 350-megawatt natural-gas-fired power plant in Brockton has been dealt another setback, this time by a state Energy Facilities Siting Board decision that developers cannot use drinking water to cool the proposed facility.

The oversight board made the decision in a 4-to-3 vote last week, announcing that Brockton Clean Energy’s parent company, Advanced Power of North America, didn’t make its case there would be minimal environmental impact to Kingston’s Silver Lake, which supplies the potable water.

Project manager Jonathan Winslow declined comment until the decision could be fully reviewed, acknowledging, though, that the siting board at the same time OK’d other proposed project changes to appease neighbors’ concerns.

They include a request to lower the proposed 130-foot turbine building to 116 feet and eliminate a plan to burn diesel fuel as a backup, along with its 750,000-gallon storage tank.

Opponents of the plant weren’t as reserved.

“We are very, very pleased,’’ said Kate Archard of Stop The Power, a grass-roots opposition group. With the oversight board’s decision, “this is where we finally say enough, and we have the case to do it,’’ she said.

Advanced Power filed the proposed project changes last year, and Thursday’s ruling came after months of heated testimony. The company needs 2 million gallons of water a day to cool the plant planned for Oak Hill Way in the south end of Brockton.

While the siting board granted construction approval for the $350 million project last year, it was contingent on the use of treated effluent from the city’s waste-water treatment plant. After the Brockton City Council made it clear it does not intend to sell that treated water, the company moved to Plan B: using potable water.

Archard said she and others have a long list of objections to the plant, including its location in a low-income, densely settled sector already designated a state environmental justice area at a time when Brockton already has the state’s fourth-highest rate of pediatric asthma.

“Kudos to the Energy Facilities Siting Board,’’ she said. “I’ve been very critical of them. But they really stepped it up.’’

Brockton Mayor Linda Balzotti said she’s pleased, too, even though she conceded the decision is not the “final nail in the coffin’’ for the project.

“There are still legal avenues available for everyone,’’ Balzotti said. “But I still truly believe that this is not in the best interest of the city.’’

The Brockton City Council has worked to block the plant, including passage of a recent home-rule petition making its way through the Legislature to ban such structures from areas near schools, churches, and housing developments.

A similar budget amendment filed on Beacon Hill this year by state Representative Geraldine Creedon of Brockton had failed, however.

Business and union supporters say the jobs, tax revenue, and ancillary benefits the project would spawn are critical for the city and people who need work.

Advanced Power has projected about 750 new jobs and a regional boost of more than $350 million during construction, plus another $12 million for Brockton annually and another $1.5 million in taxes. It had also offered $3 million for the water.

But opponents like state Representative Christine Canavan of Brockton say safety has no price. Her grandchildren attend a school near the proposed plant site.

“This is very encouraging for those of us fighting the plant,’’ she said. “I am leery of the whole thing.’’

While Brockton draws 10 million gallons a day from Silver Lake, it also pays $5 million a year as part of an unbreakable 20-year deal for drinking water from the Aquaria desalinization plant on the Taunton River that it no longer needs.

The Dighton facility that opened several years ago was to supply 4 million gallons of fresh water each day to Brockton at a time the state was urging the city to find an alternative source of drinking water, officials said.

City Council member Jass Stewart, frustrated that Brockton is paying a fortune for water it no longer needs, has asked for a legal opinion on how that contract might be dissolved. At the same time, he said, he hopes to form a task force to study how better to market the facility to other towns — which would lower the usage fee if more communities bought in, since the city is locked into the deal.

Power plant officials have pushed to buy what they call Brockton’s “surplus’’ water, but there is no surplus, said Alex Mansfield of the Jones River Watershed Association.

If Brockton didn’t take the water from Silver Lake, it would flow naturally to the Jones River and then on into Cape Cod Bay rather than be continually depleted by the city’s usage.

“That is a lot of water,’’ Mansfield said. “They draw it down like a bathtub right to the intake pipe. We have been advocating that they take from the desalinization plant.’’

While claiming a cautious victory, city officials agree the fight isn’t over. The siting board’s first decision last year to allow construction is already being appealed by Brockton in the Supreme Judicial Court. Officials said a challenge from Advanced Power of the siting board’s decision, when it becomes final this fall, wouldn’t be unexpected.

And while the state board said Advanced Power didn’t make its case, Stewart said: “I don’t think there is a case to be made.’’

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton@live.com.