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Group still questions safety of proposed power plant

Date: 11/29/2011

Nov. 30, 2011

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD — The recent state approval of yet another permit is not persuading members of Westfield Concerned Citizens (WCC) to give up their fight against a proposed gas fired power plant to be built in the city.

“Many of us have been in this for four or more years and we don’t intend to give up now,” Mary Ann Babinski, spokesperson for WCC, said. “The more I learn, the more I realize how important it is to continue the fight.”

On Nov. 9, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell dismissed the group’s appeal of a sewer discharge permit issued to Pioneer Valley Energy Center (PVEC), which, when completed will be a 400 megawatt natural-gas fired power plant located on Servistar Industrial Way. According to material provided by PVEC, a similar appeal of its state-issued air quality permit was dismissed in July.

Babinski said the recent approval overlooked a request by her group to stipulate the plant not exceed a one part per billion level of mercury emissions. She said the group’s lawyer, Stacy Rubin, was addressing this oversight with Kimmell.

“We’re looking to have that included so there will be guidance and guaranteed monitoring,” Babinski said.

Matthew Palmer, project manager for PVEC, told Reminder Publications the additional mercury emission language requested by WCC was unnecessary, as the federal mercury discharge limits the plant must adhere to — requiring mercury discharge be no greater than 0.2 parts per billion — are higher.

“There was no harm to us, so we agreed,” Palmer said, adding that the addition of the language was” being worked out with the DEP.”

Babinski said this latest appeal to halt the construction of what her group calls “a dirty gas-fed power plant” is part of an effort that has included protests, petition campaigns and a recent meeting with Jim Gordon, CEO of Energy Management, the parent company of PVEC and the Cape wind project.

“We met with Mr. Gordon and Mr. Palmer and two engineers at the [PVEC] office on Servistar Road,” Babinski said. “In the end we agreed to disagree. I told him I was going to be sending him another list of signatures [similar to one sent this summer]. We are getting a good cross section of people across the city who don’t want this plant.

“I told him that no matter what he says and no matter how he tries to convince us that this is a state-of-the-art clean energy plant,” she continued. “I told him that I don’t believe clean energy comes from a smokestack.”

The major concern of WCC is the proximity of the proposed plant to several schools, as well as elderly housing. Both groups, Babinski noted, are the most vulnerable to particulate pollution, such as what might spew from a PVEC smokestack.

Despite the DEP approvals, Babinski said, “this plant is still going to be spewing out toxic emissions.”

“People aren’t aware, even in our neighborhoods, that this will be greater or equal to [that of the] Springfield biomass plant,” she observed, adding that the projected carbon emissions for PVEC is 500 tons per year, “compared to 82 for the biomass plant.”

Palmer said that though Babinski and the WCC are “good hearted, well-intentioned people … and they have clearly expressed concerns [about this plant], the science indicates their concerns don’t have a real basis.”

He said that to receive an air quality permit from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for which there will be a public hearing in the next few months, PVEC must present data that indicates the plant’s emissions will not harm human health. Palmer noted, “The EPA has created a standard called the national ambient air quality standard. Those standards are created to protect human health and the environment, including the most sensitive receptors, with a factor of safety.”

To receive an ambient air quality standard permit, Palmer explained, PVEC must outline its predicted plant emissions, evaluate EPA ambient air monitoring reports for surrounding areas — in this case from monitors in Springfield and Chicopee — research “five years worth of climatological data” for the area and “run this all together in one software package.” The result, he said, “tells you what your ambient air quality will be, and it must be below the national ambient air quality standards.”

When PVEC receives its EPA air quality permit, Palmer said it would be the first plant in the Northeast to be regulated for its carbon dioxide emissions.

He said he expected a draft of the EPA permit “available for public evaluation in the next week or two,” with a public hearing on the permit “toward the end of January.”

Debbie Gardner can be reached by e-mail at

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