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Westfield Power Plant: How Green?

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

There is a lot of talk, pro and con, about Pioneer Valley Energy Center, a natural gas-fired power plant proposed for Westfield. For the chosen host city, the project offers some attractive features.
The 400 megawatts the plant would generate could power 430,000 homes, the operators say, and Westfield and nearby communities would be first to benefit from the energy. The operators estimate Westfield will receive more than $2 million a year in taxes, and they plan to buy gas to run the plant from Westfield’s municipal utility, Westfield Gas and Electric.
But some local residents, who have formed a group called Westfield Concerned Citizens, and others are calling for a “rethink” of the project. High on the list of reasons is the fact that the plant will need up to 2 million gallons of water a day from the Tighe-Carmody Reservoir for cooling.
The Tighe Carmody Reservoir, located in Southampton, is fed by the Manhan River, which flows from Huntington and Westhampton southeast to the reservoir and then northeast to Easthampton.
In the FAQ section of a Pioneer Valley Energy Center website, the Tighe Carmody reservoir is erroneously described as a “non-potable” water source. That means not drinkable. Not so, says the Holyoke Water Department, which told the Advocate that the reservoir is Holyoke’s main source of drinking water.
In this season of the year, according to the Holyoke Water Department, the city draws down between 5 and 6 million gallons a day, and the state-imposed limit for drawdown from Tighe Carmody is 8.04 million gallons per day, so during the summer months—the season of maximum drawdown—the PVEC’s use of water might reach or exceed the drawdown limit.
The plant’s developers originally proposed to use dry cooling for the plant; that would only have taken an estimated 200,000 gallons of water a day. But then they changed the plan to include water cooling. In 2010 16 parties petitioned the state to force Pioneer Valley Energy Center’s developer to use dry cooling, but the state Department of Environmental Projection supported the developer’s choice to cool the plant with water (“Shopping for Water,” March 5, 2009).
Pioneer Valley Energy Center’s corporate parent is EMI (Energy Management, Inc.), a Boston-based company that is the developer of the Cape Wind project. EMI has built six other gas-fired power plants as well as a wood chip-fueled plant in Alexandria, N.H.
On May 23, a meeting organized by Westfield Concerned Citizens, Climate Action Now! and the Pioneer Valley chapter of the Green Rainbow Party will take place at 6:30 p.m. at the Westfield Athenaeum. The aim of the Green Rainbow Party is to urge Westfield to take another approach to energy, by, for example, looking into the state’s Green Communities Act, which offers grants for towns to make public buildings more energy-efficient. Net metering and solar power should also be on the table, say the meeting’s organizers.
“Other communities in Western Massachusetts are pulling in six-figure grants through the Green Communities Act,” says Mary Ann Babinski, a spokesperson for Westfield Concerned Citizens. “That’s what we should be doing instead of laying out the welcome mat for a fossil-fuel power plant that will need 2 million gallons of water every day just to operate.”
For more information about the meeting, to go the news page at BeatBackFracking.org.•

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