Massachusetts Embracing Gas to Reduce Emissions
In an attempt to go "above and beyond" federal regulations, six
of Massachusetts' oldest --- and dirtiest --- power plants will be
retrofitted or rebuilt and will switch to cleaner burning natural
gas after reaching a voluntary agreement last week with state
officials. The six plants, owned by five companies, vowed to cut
their emissions in half by 2003, a move that has followed growing
political and grassroots pressure throughout Massachusetts.
The final blow may have come when a Harvard University report
revealed two weeks ago that two of state's facilities --- Salem
Harbor Station and Brayton Point --- may be triggering thousands of
asthma attacks and hundreds of deaths every year.
Dubbed the "Filthy Five" utilities by environmental groups and
even state regulators, the utilities joined together and
voluntarily agreed to Gov. Paul Cellucci's demands made within the
past two months. Cellucci threatened the utilities with harsh
penalties and stricter regulations if they did not upgrade their
Under the agreement, the six facilities will switch from coal to
natural gas and use new technologies to improve pollution control.
The changes are expected to reduce nitrogen oxide and sulfur
dioxide emissions by 50%, and also reduce carbon dioxide and soot
The facilities and their owners are Sithe Energy's Mystic
Station in Charlestown, built in the 1950s; NRG Energy Inc.'s
Montaup Station in Somerset; Pacific Gas & Electric's two
facilities, Brayton Point in Somerset and Salem Harbor in Salem;
Northeast Utilities' Mount Tom in Holyoke; and Southern Energy New
England's Canal Electric in Sandwich.
Sithe Energy is the only company that will build a new facility
--- a $1 billion gas-fired plant to replace the Mystic Station
facility, and it is expected to open in the summer of 2002. Mystic
Station still will be used, but only as a backup and also will be
retrofitted to burn gas. All of the other plants will be
retrofitted to burn gas. Work is expected to begin later this year.
The Mystic Station Redevelopment Project, as it is called, will
have a gas-fired combined-cycle electric power generation facility
to mostly replace the existing Mystic Station, a 1,000 MW electric
generating facility. Sithe plans to use state-of-the-art "G"
combustion turbine technology, and is considering either Siemens
Westinghouse or Mitsubishi Heavy Industries as the potential
supplier. The supplier choice will result in the project having a
total nominal electric power output rating of 1,500 MW, or 2,550
MW, depending upon final equipment selection.
According to state officials, expanding capacity at the Mystic
Station site "provides a unique opportunity to meet the region's
energy needs using an existing site and infrastructure, and to
provide improvements to operation of the existing Mystic Station
units." The project will be supplied with gas from a new 20-inch
diameter pipeline to nearby Distrigas's liquefied natural gas
terminal. The pipeline also will give the project access to several
other supply options.
Together, the six facilities are responsible for 90% of the
power plant pollution in Massachusetts, according to the
Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, a consumer interest
organization. But the natural gas will change that, said officials.
Emissions from the plants could drop by as much as 89,000 tons a
year, which is equivalent to taking 750,000 vehicles off the road,
according to environmental groups. In the Harvard University
report, researchers estimate that Salem Harbor Station and Brayton
Pont may be linked to 43,000 asthma attacks and an estimated 159
premature deaths every year.
"The people of Massachusetts can breathe a little easier,"
Cellucci said. "We will clean up the Filthy Five."
Greg Butler, vice president of Northeast Utilities, said there
would have been "hell to pay" if the five companies had not
complied with the governor's demands. "The governor really did a
Herculean task," Butler said. As part of Massachusetts' utility
deregulation, 18 other power plants are scheduled to be built, but
because there will be more plants, Cellucci predicted consumer
bills will not increase drastically to cover the cleanup.
Carolyn Davis, Houston