Note: Story originally published Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010
Story by Lisa E. Crowley
The Brockton Post
BROCKTON—Advanced Power, the company which has proposed a 350-megawatt natural gas power plant on the south side of Brockton may have changed some of their plans in an attempt to gain support, but sentiment from residents and elected officials is the same—build it, just not in Brockton.
“None of these facilities seems to locate in Weston, Wellesley or Dover….or Hingham, Duxbury or Cohasset,” said Brockton resident and Plymouth County Clerk of Courts Robert Creedon Jr., during a nearly four-hour long public hearing Tuesday night about proposed changes to Advanced Power’s plans to build the plant on Oak Hill Way on the Brockton-West Bridgewater border.
Creedon’s comments were met by cheers, whoops and claps from the more than 200 hundred residents from Brockton and the Bridgewaters who filled the West Middle School auditorium to oppose the project.
Creedon’s comments also received boos and negative hoots from the more than 150 union workers from the Southeastern Masssachusetts Building Trades, many of whom came in two large buses to support the jobs that would be created as part of the power plant’s construction.
While some union members were from Brockton or surrounding communities, many were from Rhode Island.
The meeting, held by the Energy Facilities Siting Board, a division of the state Department of Public Utilities was one of many that have been held in Boston and Brockton about the proposed natural-gas plant since the company filed plans three years ago.
The Energy Facilities Siting Board, or EFSB, has approved the project, but local permits are still needed in Brockton and city board’s have rejected several due to height restrictions and environmental issues—rejections that have been appealed in court.
Tuesday night’s meeting was held because Advanced Power—also known as Brockton Clean Energy--has modified several aspects of the plant, including eliminating diesel fuel as a power generating option, using drinking water instead of waste water to cool generators—a move many said was worse-- and decreasing the size of a generator enclosure that while smaller would still exceed city height ordinances, city officials said.
The Siting Board now must make a decision on the changes. Department of Public Utilities Spokesman Tim Shevlin said the Siting Board will hold evidenciary hearings at its offices at South Station October 21, 26 and 28. He said the hearings are open to the public, but the public may not make comment. Shevlin said depending upon the first three evidenciary hearings, the Siting Board could hold two other hearings in November.
Shevlin said there is no "statutory time frame" for the Siting Board to make a decision on the new plans and could not speculate if it would be this year or next.
A lynch-pin in the project is the use of city water--drinking or waste water--a decision to be made by the City Council, whose members have vowed to vote against allowing Advanced Power the city's water.
Throughout the night nasty comments and cheers and jeers were launched as supporters on each side of the power plant debate spoke from 7:30 to about 11:15 p.m. when the hearing closed.
Plant opponents interrupted tattooed and swarthy pipe fitters and construction workers with comments of “go home” or “build it in your neighborhood,” while the union workers tossed barbs about the “white-haired Geritol club” not wanting to rebuild the country and put young people back to work.
Much of the night was hostile, heated and punctuated by a Brockton police officer positioning himself in pockets of verbal conflict between seated and standing attendees.
State Rep. Christine Canavan, who is running for reelection against Republican opponent John F. Cruz, after expressing staunch opposition to the plant returned to her seat in the auditorium and heard a comment from a man a few rows behind her say “so much for the labor vote.”
Canavan began shouting and asking, “are you threatening me, are you threatening me? Is that a threat,” and asked if there was a police officer.
The unidentified man, wearing a blue and yellow “support Brockton Clean Energy” sticker and sitting with a group of union members said, “what, all I said was so much for the labor vote.”
Canavan continued asking if it was a threat and asking for a police officer, adding “it’s been three years of this.”
The back-and-forth ended when a Brockton police officer stood near the seats.
Overall, many opponents cited a lack of trust in Advanced Power to keep its promises—such as not using diesel—a change several said could easily be reversed once the plant is built or flatly don’t believe the information provided about potentially toxic emissions from the plant’s operation.
Many also said a February explosion in Middletown, Conn., of a natural gas plant under construction that killed five people show harm to the surrounding populace from such a plant is real and not just unusual or rare.
City Councilor at Large Todd Petti said the explosion changed his mind about the project and he will now support his fellow council members against the project after supporting it for most of the project’s life. Until his change of heart, Petti was the only city councilor who would vote in favor of allowing the company to use the city's water.
While now being against the plant, Petti said he still believes its construction would be a windfall economically for the city—the company expects to add about $3 million to the city’s cash-strapped coffers from taxes and fees and would pay $1.5 to $2 million per year for the city’s water.
“I believe all the changes made by Advanced Power are worth the (EFSB’s) attention,” Petti said. “It’s in their lap,” he said.
Petti also questioned how much money was being spent on fighting the proposal.
“To date we have spent $314,000 in legal and consultants’ fees,” Petti said. “Have we gotten our money’s worth? What have we achieved? How much do we want to spend fighting this,” he said.
For many residents, fighting the plant with words and money is the only way to protect the city from having to accept another project that could be harmful to residents.
“We assume the risks and Brockton Power assumes the profits,” said Brockton resident Kate Archard.