|By Natasha Clark|
Assistant Managing Editor
WESTFIELD Residents gathered inside North Middle School on Dec. 19 to learn more about the proposed Pioneer Valley Energy Center at Servistar Way and Ampad Road, about a mile away from Barnes Airport.
The voluntary meeting hosted by the Westfield Chamber of Commerce featured a presentation by Project Manager Matthew Palmer.
Palmer said the objective of the meeting was to have dialogue with the community, "because we really did want to get our information out to you."
A similar project had been proposed for the city a few years ago and so Energy Management Inc., the center's owner, looked at the public's concerns for that project.
"We tried to learn from what happened before," Palmer said.
The proposed center is a 400 megawatt electric generation facility that could provide power for 430,000 homes. Palmer said it would have air-cooled generation and would not draw nor discharge into the river. The natural gas fuel is delivered by pipeline, not trucks. The facility will also have an exhaust stack 50-175 feet high. Palmer said because they use air as a coolant there will be no plume.
The energy center will also use Ultra Low Sulfur Distillate fuel in the winter to ensure the natural gas winter supply will meet heating needs, according to Palmer. The $400 million development, slated to open in 2012, would be located on 13 of 35 acres in the Servistar Industrial Way industrial park.
Energy Management Inc. has developed six other facilities and is also responsible for the Cape Wind project in Cape Cod. Palmer said this facility will create 15-20 permanent licensed positions. The initial construction phase will employ approximately 200 workers. He also noted that the energy center would be a significant source of tax revenue to the city and provide an increase in local commercial activity.
The Eastern Box Turtle habitat is near the proposed site, but Palmer said, "we've had a number of conversations with Mass Wildlife ... we are working with them and they are working with us."
He said there would be no noise coming from the facility, even for the nearest neighbor.
Westfield Gas and Electric Manager Daniel Golubek said they are currently in negotiations with Energy Management Inc. He also commented that a project such as this could bring a strong social and economic presence to Westfield.
A number of residents asked questions and voiced their concerns. The first questioned whether the kind of impact the center would have on homeowners. She was also worried that Westfield was shaping up to be an industrial city.
"It's not even a nice place to live anymore," she said.
Another audience member said that the idea of reductions in electric/heating bills can be misleading. She noted Berkshire Power in Agawam.
Mayor-elect Michael R. Boulanger said the center would be appropriately located in an industrial park. He said that he's been in Westfield for 30 years and has watched it grow. He explained that growth includes an expansion in services as well. The problem, Boulanger said, is that property taxes doesn't cover it.
"I'm a proponent of this," Boulanger said.
Energy Management Inc. wants to be part of the city, he added. "I have been nothing but impressed with this operation," he said.
Acting Mayor Charles W. Medeiros also said the center would have a great financial impact five years from now.
"This is a cleaner operation by far than what was proposed last time," Medeiros said. "I just urge people in the city to just listen and learn about it."
Councilor at large-elect Nicholas J. Morganelli Jr., who is also a member of the American Lung Association's Board of Directors, read a letter from Jeffrey Seyler, CEO of the American Lung Association of Massachusetts, where it was noted that the Pioneer Valley already has high pollution and asthma rates.
Seyler said this was not the associations's area of expertise, and while they are neither for or against the project, it is not seen as a major source of pollution.
Ward 1 Councilor-elect Christopher Keefe also spoke and said generally speaking the councilors are for this project.
The Q & A session continued and was capped by Palmer reminding residents to stay involved in the process. They said they would be willing to answer all questions.
"Feel free to contact us," Palmer said. "We will answer you."
Energy Management Inc. will have to go through hearings with the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act and Westfield's Planning Board and Conservation Commission, among others.
They have filed an environmental notification for with MEPA and the resident comment period has been extended to Jan. 14. Residents can send their comments by that date to Secretary Ian A. Bowles, Attn: MEPA Office, 100 Cambridge St., Suite 900, Boston, MA 02114.
There will also be a City Council public hearing on Jan. 3. Residents can visit their Web site www.pvenergycenter.com.