Massachusetts Permit for New Natural Gas Plant Incorporates Global Climate Conditions Including Sunset Date

By on March 18, 2014

The Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board (Siting Board) approved a certificate for a 630-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant in Salem last month.  The certificate is unique in that it incorporates the terms of a settlement agreement that imposes greenhouse gas emissions caps and requires the plant to sunset operations no later than 2050.

The facility is scheduled to begin operations in 2016 and will replace a 63-year-old oil- and coal-fired plant.  The emissions caps, which would gradually decrease beginning in 2026, could be satisfied by emissions reductions from reduced operations or carbon-capture systems; credits or allowances from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI); Renewable Energy Certificates; or investment in Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard-eligible local renewable generation, energy efficiency or demand-response measures.

The certificate is the result of a settlement reached between the developer and an environmental organization.  The project is the first request to construct a generating facility since the state’s enactment of the Global Warming Solutions Act in 2008 (GWSA).  The GWSA requires greenhouse gas emissions reductions from all sectors of the economy to reach a target of a 25 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2025 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050.  However, there are currently no regulations implementing the act with respect to Siting Board decisions.  The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs produced a Climate Plan that indicates at least some natural gas-fueled electric generation could comport with the GWSA targets.

The Siting Board initially approved the construction of the project and determined that it complied with the GWSA without the conditions of the settlement agreement, indicating that decreasing emissions caps or an expiration date may not be necessary for Siting Board approval of other projects.  However, after that decision was appealed by the environmental organization, the developer acceded to the environmental conditions in the hopes that they will demonstrate that the fossil fuel-fired plant can meet the requirements of the GWSA.  The settlement agreement was incorporated as a condition of the final certificate issued by the Siting Board.

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