NRG Energy’s plan to construct a new natural gas-fired turbine at its Sandwich power plant on the Cape Cod Canal took a major step forward last Friday, June 30, when the project won the approval of a state regulatory panel.
The Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board, which had already granted preliminary approval for the project, heard some new testimony—including financial updates on an affiliated company that filed for bankruptcy last month—before casting the unanimous vote of approval.
The power company considered the state siting board to be the biggest hurdle the project had to clear.
“NRG is pleased that the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board unanimously approved the Canal 3 New Generation project,” said David Gaier, NRG spokesman. “This is a major step in moving forward with the project, after a permitting cycle that has lasted about two years.”
The proposed 350-megawatt gas-fired turbine would provide additional power capacity to southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island to help meet energy demand during peak times.
The so-called Canal 3 project—which, according to company officials, will transform the plant into a highly efficient, fast-starting, peak electric-generating facility—has been exempted from most local zoning bylaws. Only the conservation commission and the historic district committee had to weigh in on the upgrade.
There have been no objections from the public at the local level, and few comments when the Cape Cod Commission reviewed the project last year. At a state Department of Environmental Protection hearing earlier this year, however, a few people spoke out about NRG’s use of fossil fuel.
They questioned whether the NRG plant would enable the state to reach its goal of a 25 percent reduction in emissions by 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050.
Nevertheless, the DEP issued preliminary approval for the plant’s air quality permit in February. DEP spokesman Ed Coletta said last week that the department was awaiting the siting board’s ruling. The DEP intends to issue its final ruling after the appeal period for the siting board decision has elapsed, Mr. Coletta said.
Sandwich officials have been overwhelmingly supportive of NRG’s plans, which will benefit the town financially for many years to come. The town sent a letter of support to the siting board.
The siting board decision had not yet been posted on the agency’s website this week, so details were not available at press time. Siting board Press Secretary Katie Gronendyke said the decision will be published soon. Anyone who disagrees with the decision has 20 days to file an appeal, she added.
The siting board decision had not yet been posted on the agency’s website this week and officials did not return phone calls this week.
The nine-member siting board is “charged with ensuring a reliable energy supply for the Commonwealth with a minimum impact on the environment at the lowest possible cost,” according to the agency’s website.
“The Siting Board is within but not under the supervision or control of the Department of Public Utilities. The Siting Board’s primary function is to license the construction of major energy infrastructure in Massachusetts, including large power plants, electric transmission lines, natural gas pipelines and natural gas storage facilities,” the website says.
The state, federal and local approvals, plans, and discussions have proved a long journey for NRG and the town.
Sandwich and NRG late last year reached two multi-million dollar agreements after months of negotiations. The PILOT (payment-in-lieu-of-taxes) and HCA (host community agreement) mean that the power company will pay the town a total of about $57 million over a 21-year period, in return for the town’s support of the upgrade.
NRG shares ownership of the two older Sandwich power plant units with Princeton, New Jersey-based energy company GenOn. GenOn, which owns 32 power plants in eight states, filed for bankruptcy last month, but it will not affect NRG’s plans to upgrade the Sandwich site, town and company officials have said in the last few weeks.
Mr. Gaier said GenOn’s bankruptcy was not unexpected.
“The GenOn restructuring was publicly noticed as a possible outcome over a year ago. NRG has pursued the development of the Canal 3 knowing that this was possible and will continue to do so now that the GenOn bankruptcy has been filed,” Mr. Gaier said in an e-mailed statement. “NRG and GenOn continue to cooperate to maximize the value of the Canal 3 project.”
NRG hopes to begin work later this year, company officials have said. The new unit must be online by June 1, 2019, according to the company’s agreement with ISO—the regional grid administrator, which also had approved NRG’s plans.
“We still have work ahead, but we’re very optimistic about the future of the project,” Mr. Gaier said this week. “We look forward to working with all stakeholders to bring this clean, flexible and modern power generation—a source of affordable and reliable energy—to the Cape.”