Power plant developers offer changes

By Michele Morgan Bolton
Globe Correspondent / April 25, 2010

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Developers of a proposed power plant in Brockton say they have responded to citizens’ concerns with a series of changes to the natural-gas facility’s design — including lower building heights and the elimination of a backup fuel source and its 750,000-gallon above-ground storage tank.

Brockton Clean Energy is also now proposing to buy nearly 2 million gallons of drinking water a day to cool the plant’s towers, officials said, after being refused access to treated waste water.

But city officials and other opponents say the company’s latest proposal is a desperate effort to sidestep local zoning guidelines for the unpopular 350-megawatt facility proposed for Oak Hill Way.

“They are relentless,’’ Mayor Linda Balzotti said, adding that city attorneys are reviewing hundreds of pages of revisions that were delivered to Brockton — and the state — by the developers last week.

“And we will be just as relentless,’’ Balzotti said. “I will pursue every avenue I can to ensure this is not built.’’

Brockton Clean Energy’s parent company, Advanced Power of North America, filed the proposed project changes with the state Energy Facilities Siting Board after a nearly three-year battle with residents and city officials.

The state agency granted the company construction approval for the $350 million project last year — after months of public testimony.

A caveat, though, was that Brockton Clean Energy was required to seek local zoning approvals and use treated effluent from the city’s waste-water treatment plant to cool its towers, or come back to resubmit a different plan.

Thus far, members of the City Council have said they will not sell recycled water to the power plant, forcing the company to seek other avenues to meet its daily water needs, at a cost of about $3 million more annually, officials said.

In an interview, Brockton Clean Energy project manager Jonathan Winslow said he hopes the proposed changes will convince Brockton residents that the company is listening to their concerns.

“We looked for the best site in Massachusetts, and Brockton was it,’’ he said. “We really do consider this type of natural gas development to be the way forward.’’

Winslow said that Brockton Clean Energy continues to reach out to city officials but that those efforts have been routinely rebuffed.

“We are willing to work with them,’’ he said. “But we are also committed to seeing this all the way through.’’

As a result of “value engineering to meet zoning criteria,’’ Winslow said, the project’s former 130-foot turbine building has been replaced in the plan with a 116-foot-tall structure to enclose the equipment.

A plan to burn diesel as a backup fuel has been eliminated, as was the huge storage tank to contain the fuel, he said. The latter was a response to continued concerns about excessive truck traffic and spills into ground water, he said.

Brockton Clean Energy has promised to bring more than 750 new jobs and $368 million in economic stimulus to the Brockton region during construction, along with an additional $12.5 million annually to the city and surrounding region during the life of the plant’s operation. As the largest taxpayer in the city, the facility would provide $1.5 million in tax revenue, plus the $3 million in water purchases, if approved, officials said.

Some residents say the economic boost is long overdue.

“I’m in favor of it,’’ said Meredith Keane. “Brockton is a city whose time has come. We need a boost, and I’d like to see both sides come together and mediate.’’

Fred Fontaine, a business owner and landlord, said the state would never have given the OK if the plant was so bad for Brockton.

“I think the best thing to do is put it on a ballot,’’ he said. “We are a city that’s broke. With a deficit of upwards of $3 million, we’re going to have to fire cops, firemen, and teachers.’’

But others, like opposition leader Ed Byers, whose companies Cindy’s Kitchen and Custom Blends are located next to the site of the proposed power plant, said no amount of revenue can replace health and well-being.

He said Brockton Clean Energy’s changes only add to the corporation’s lack of credibility.

“They fought for one plan for years, saying it was going to have no more effect than an ionic breeze, and now this,’’ Byers said. “What’s really happening is their financing is on the line and if this plant doesn’t get built, none of their other ones will, either.’’

Not so, said Wes Eberle, a spokesman for the project.

“The complete redesign has everything to do with providing more benefits to the citizens of Brockton and nothing to do with financing,’’ Eberle said. “We have strong financial partners.’’

Balzotti said Advanced Power still needs zoning approval and it is disingenuous of the company to indicate otherwise.

“For us, it’s all about the location,’’ she said. “It’s a densely populated area. Even the slightest accident would affect health and welfare.’’

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at

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