Printer Friendly


Brings More and Greener Power to New England

New Englanders who worry about facing the kind of energy crisis responsible for California's brownouts, blackouts, and sharp spikes in utility bills should journey into the future -- to New Hampshire, where an extraordinary new gas-fired power plant is rising in the Londonderry Ecological Industrial Park. It's being built by The AES Corporation, a 20-year-old Arlington, Va. power company that builds "clean" plants, using the new combined-cycle, natural-gas technology. Called AES Granite Ridge (there is no ridge; the name derives from a contest won by Londonderry seventh-grader Justin Young), it will add 720 megawatts to the power grid when it comes on line in just over a year.

AES Granite Ridge will be the cleanest, most environmentally benign power plant in New England history, and it is part of a regional trend: nine other clean-burning, combined-cycle plants have been completed in New England in the past two years, five in Maine, two in Massachusetts, and one each in Connecticut and Rhode Island. (See "Nine New Clean Burners," page 9.) For the Conservation Law Foundation, these plants represent a reward for years of strategic effort, during which CLF worked to reinvent the way electrical power is organized and produced in New England.

The nine new plants contribute 2,900 megawatts of power to a regional grid that already has 4,000 megawatts of capacity in excess of the 23,000 required during summer's peak-load. In addition, 13 more New England plants (including AES) will come on line in the next two years, adding a total of 7,500 megawatts. By 2003, New England will have 50 percent more power than it needs, ensuring a competitive market. That should translate to lower prices, greater reliability, and cleaner air. (See "Where California Went Wrong," page 9.)

* Greener Power

The reassuring news about the security of New England's power supply is just part of the story that culminates at Granite Ridge. The plant also represents a unique and successful collaboration that was coordinated by CLF. It was the first time an environmental organization has actively worked to bring a new power plant on line, according to Alan Wilson, vice president of CLF Ventures, the nonprofit CLF affiliate that uses business and financial methods to solve environmental problems. Ventures brought together planners, environmentalists, an innovative power company, Londonderry area residents, and town officials to make possible a plant that, according to Wilson, brings a new standard of efficiency and environmental responsibility to the business of energy production.

This accomplishment has meant a dramatic repositioning for CLF in the environmental community, where energy production and a healthful environment have always been mutually exclusive territories. Says CLF general counsel Stephen H. Burrington, "There are really big environmental gains to be gotten from doing more than just saying, `No' [to power plants]. The logic is clear. The only way you can create dramatic gains in the power system is to build a fleet of extremely clean, new, gas-fired plants that are capable of displacing the old coal- and oil-fired plants. This is the atmospheric counterpart of cleaning up Boston Harbor. You can't just say, `Stop polluting.' You have to create the alternative."

CLF confronted the reality that energy needs have to be met, and that rolling back the demand curve for energy consumption was not the only way to accomplish that end. As CLF president Douglas Foy puts it, "What was unusual about our strategy is that we got out in front and said, `We really want to have these plants built.' I don't think any environmental group had done that before. What they've typically done is to oppose bad plants, but they haven't actually supported the construction of new ones."

What CLF kept firmly in focus was that old plants in the region are major sources of air pollution, and that they pose significant threats to the health and well-being of New Englanders. A recent study by Abt Associates (a Cambridge, Mass. management consulting and research firm) for Boston's Clean Air Task Force sought to quantify the impact of particulate matter ("soot") from dirty power generators. It found that the old, coal-fired plants are responsible for more than 30,000 premature deaths annually in the U.S., not to mention hundreds of thousands of cases of asthma, cardiac problems, and respiratory disease. Although the study focused on sulfur dioxide ([SO.sub.2]) and nitrogen oxide ([NO.sub.x]), these plants spew a host of other toxic gases and heavy metals into the environment.

An egregious example is PG&E's coal-fired power plant in Somerset, Mass. It's near the Rhode Island border, at Brayton Point, and, according to Kennelly, has a capacity of 1,586 megawatts, more than twice the projected capacity of AES Granite Ridge. Brayton currently produces more than 10% of the electricity consumed in New England, but it also produces 50,000 tons of [SO.sub.2] annually, and about 15,000 tons of [NO.sub.x] - both major contributors to the formation of acid rain. (See related story, p. 22). And it also produces nine million tons of carbon dioxide ([CO.sub.2]) pollution (as much as 1.5 million automobiles), along with hundreds of pounds of highly toxic heavy-metal pollutants that include mercury, chromium, and arsenic.

In stunning contrast, AES Granite Ridge will produce roughly 50 tons of [SO.sub.2] (1/1000 of Brayton's output) annually, 200 tons of [NO.sub.x] (1/70), 2.5 million tons of [CO.sub.2] (1/4), and essentially no heavy metals. AES's nine online sister plants can boast of similar figures; so will the 12 plants under construction.

* First, You Deregulate

In 1996, CLF brokered a deal with Massachusetts Electric, one of the state's largest utilities, to sell its power plants as part of a deregulation plan. (Deregulation of electric utilities is often called "restructuring," because only the power generation function of the business is deregulated, leaving the regulated utility monopoly in charge of transmission and distribution.) The deal would herald an epochal change, one that stands at the heart of deregulation.

Says Richard Kennelly, staff attorney and director of CLF's Energy Project since 1998, "By 1994, CLF had decided that the regulated power system would never close down its old, polluting plants, and that's when technology was emerging to build far cleaner, combined-cycle plants. We knew that deregulation initiatives such as ours would make power plants vulnerable to competition for the first time, and that private companies would begin to submit proposals to build new ones. The nine new plants, with 13 to come, are about what we expected."

Utilizing the know-how of allies such as John Rowe, then CEO of New England Electric System (NEES), parent company to Massachusetts Electric, the deal to deregulate was completed. With industry and environmental players largely in accord, the Massachusetts state legislature took up the issue, and in November of 1997 the Massachusetts restructuring act was signed.

According to Kennelly, "The regulated system made sure that the utilities got their costs back. As a result, our ability to get them to clean up their plants was severely limited. Now, after 30 years of the Clean Air Act, and a lot of effort, we have kept some pollution out of the air, but there's still a problem."

Deregulation meant that monopolistic utilities could no longer own the power plants they'd invested in; instead, they could buy power on the competitive market, from any generator. They would be regional brokers, seeking out plants with the most economical power available. One result of this change was that new plants could some day sell power at lower prices than those such as PG&E's Brayton Point, rendering the latter nonessential.

Having worked to make deregulation happen, CLF responded to the new arrangement with a bold initiative: CLF Ventures teamed up with AES, currently the owner, or part owner, of 134 power plants in 19 countries -- with a combined generating capacity of 44,000 megawatts. The team's goal was to buy the power plants belonging to NEES. That would have made it possible to shut down plants such as Brayton Point, and to replace them on-site, with new, clean generators -- within two years.

Ultimately, PG&E outbid the AES/CLF team for the plants. The displacing of Brayton would have to wait, but the partnership, based on the understanding that new plants could be used to reduce air pollution, proved to be the foundation for AES Granite Ridge.

* Act Locally

It took a long list of players to bring the future to Londonderry, starting with the management of Stonyfield Farm, Inc., producer of Stonyfield Yogurt. The company's manufacturing operation abuts the Granite Ridge site, which in 1993 had been seized for taxes after an earlier plan to develop a conventional industrial park was stalled by an economic downturn.

Nancy Hirshberg is currently Stonyfield's Director of Natural Resources, but at the time she was also on the board of a private, nonprofit organization devoted to recycling. She asked the Londonderry town manager to donate the seized land to Stonyfield, which would develop it as an eco-industrial park. Hirshberg knew of an ecological-industrial system in the Danish town of Kalundborg that included a coal-fired plant; its waste products were used to support the energy needs of the town's businesses, not to mention those of most of its 5,000 residences and buildings.

Nancy Girard, who is Director of CLF's New Hampshire Advocacy Center and has been closely involved in the Granite Ridge development from day one, says, "What makes Granite Ridge an environmentally sound venture are the synergies that will exist between the plant and its neighboring businesses, and also between those businesses. The goal is to have a cluster of businesses, where the waste products of one will become the energy source for another. That will be a very productive use of resources."

* Act Locally - And Responsibly

Despite the early and important role played by Stonyfield's Hirshberg, her company won't realize a synergistic relationship with the park and the power plant. The Granite Ridge plant is so clean that it produces few of the waste products that prove valuable as raw materials for the next company down the line, as at Kalundborg. The Danish power plant burns coal, which creates recyclable -- albeit toxic -- ash. The only waste that Granite Ridge produces is the water that is warmed as it cools down the turbines. It's too cool to be used at the yogurt factory, but it could prove valuable to a business such as a nursery, or others that need a constant source of winter warmth.

The spirit of Kalundborg does continue at the park, though. It's being developed by Coldstream Real Estate Advisors, Inc., of Bedford, N.H., and, according to Coldstream president Justin Bielagus, it will feature buildings sited to take maximum advantage of the natural geography. A southern exposure will make them easier to heat, and will reduce the amount of salt and sand needed to keep parking and loading areas cleared in winter. AES designed the plant to be as inconspicuous as possible, placing it on a section of land previously used as a gravel pit so as to limit the amount of woodland that would have to be removed. Instead of clearing trees and planting lawns, in the typical fashion of industrial parks, much of the woodland will be retained. Conservation easements also guarantee that part of the land will remain undeveloped, and that wildlife will have ample "corridors" for crossing the park. Located within 1,000 acres of industrially zoned land, the eco-park will be roughly 100 acres in size; the power plant will occupy 47 acres (only 17 for the plant itself), and the rest -- in addition to 80 acres in power line transmission corridors -- will be conservation land that retains significant acreage of wetlands. Says Girard, "AES listened to us when we said no wetlands loss."

Buildings are being constructed with advice from "green" architectural consultants provided by Coldstream. The goal is to apply new environmental standards to the shape and scale of the buildings, to make them more flexible and able to serve more occupants, thereby extending their useful lives. Minimal amounts of toxic paint and other building elements are also part of the plan. AES will leave a buffer of trees between the facility and the surrounding community, to minimize any visibility or noise that may emanate from what will be an inherently quiet, low-profile operation.

Another example of the effort to make Granite Ridge as "green" as possible is a plan to purchase and recycle approximately four million gallons of treated effluent daily (from the Manchester, NH, Waste Water Treatment Facility) that would otherwise be discharged into the Merrimack River. The water will be used in the plant's cooling process, and be returned to the Manchester treatment facility. AES will also make available steam and heat, byproducts (not waste products) of electricity generation, to nearby industries. The resulting synergies will help to reduce environmental stress, and improve the ability of participants to operate more competitively.

Bielagus has an ambitious goal: to create the first eco-industrial park in the U.S. that is privately funded, and that works in business terms.

* The Turbines and the Generators

Two vast gas turbines, each 36 feet long, 20 feet wide, 15.5 feet high, and weighing 642,000 pounds, currently stand on an exposed concrete pedestal at the Granite Ridge site. With construction complete, they will be housed inside a heavily insulated enclosure, to muffle sound. Built by Siemens Westinghouse, in Ontario, the turbines were taken by rail to Ayer, Mass., then carted the last 44 miles over limited roads to Londonderry, slowly, on a specially designed steel assembly that moves on dozens of heavy-duty rubber wheels.

As a combined-cycle generator, AES Granite Ridge is designed to make maximum use of the natural gas used to drive it. The gas fuels the turbines, each one driving a generator. Exhaust heat from the turbines is captured in heat-recovery steam generators, which produce steam to drive a steam turbine generator. The result is a dramatic increase in efficiency over that produced by a conventional plant, according to plant manager Peter Bajc ("Bayjack"). He says that Granite Ridge will operate at a rate of 58% efficiency: 58% of the energy capacity of the fuel burned will be expressed in electricity produced. A traditional, fossil fuel plant operates at only 30% to 40% efficiency.

* A Better Model

The AES power plant is an appropriate symbol for CLF's long-term campaign to reduce the amount of pollution that utilities have poured into the environment. It reflects the fundamental changes in the wholesale power market that followed from deregulation, and it shows that a secure power supply and a cleaner environment can coexist.

As Douglas Foy noted recently, speaking of CLF's long-term efforts in the process of deregulation, "We've taken the position that you must have a positive agenda for solving electricity problems."

The result is that when AES Granite Ridge begins producing power, in June of 2002, it will produce the cleanest power, on a significant scale, available anywhere today. Together with its sister plants -- California, take note -- it will provide New England with power to spare, at the flick of a switch.

RELATED ARTICLE: Nine New Clean Burners

The power plants that have recently come on line represent an important new source of energy for New England. They also provide a guarantee that energy production in the region's future will be cleaner than ever before. All nine plants are combined-cycle plants, fueled by natural gas, and produce at least 98% fewer toxic emissions than traditional power plants. They include:

* The Bridgeport Energy Project, a 520-megawatt plant in Bridgeport, Conn., developed by Bridgeport Energy LLC. On line 1999.

* The Berkshire Power Project, a 272-megawatt plant in Agawam, Mass., developed by PDC Berkshire Power LLC. On line 1999.

* The EMI Dighton Power Project, a 185 megawatt plant in Dighton, Mass., developed by Energy Management Inc. On line 1999.

* The Bucksport Energy Project, a 174-megawatt power plant in Bucksport, Maine, developed by the Bucksport Energy Co. On line 1999.

* The Androscoggin Energy Center, a 157-megawatt plant in Jay, Maine, developed by SkyGen Energy LLC. On line 1999.

* The Rumford Power Associates Project. A 265-megawatt plant in Rumford, Maine, developed by Calpine Corporation. On line 2000.

* The Maine Independence Project, a 520-megawatt plant in Veazie, Maine, developed by Acadia Bay Energy Co. On line 2000.

* The Westbrook Power Project, a 540-megawatt plant in Westbrook, Maine, developed by Calpine Corporation. On line 2000.

* EMI-Tiverton, a 265-megawatt plant in Tiverton, R.I., developed by Energy Management Inc. On line 2000.

RELATED ARTICLE: Where California Went Wrong

New England was investing in new production capacity, and while new gas pipelines were being built to ensure fuel supplies to the region -- a total investment in energy security estimated at $7 billion -- California saw its margin of energy security eroded by a range of factors, including:

* greater long-term economic growth than expected, which increased the demand for power;

* sustained drought that reduced the state's hydroelectric power production; more than 25% of the state's power comes from hydro;

* extraordinary rates of growth in neighboring states, which meant they had less power available for "export"; and

* deregulation strategy that many experts have called flawed, and which -- according to some -- has discouraged investment in new power plants.

A leading critic of California's deregulation plan is William Hogan, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and an internationally respected authority on the economics of power. Hogan has referred to California's debacle as an electric policy meltdown, and from its experience he has drawn a formula for distress on a grand scale.

First, Hogan says, California forced utilities to sell power plants, barring them from creating long-term contracts, which left them at the mercy of the spot market.

Second, state-mandated caps on retail rates for power erased the incentive for consumers to reduce demand during system peaks.

And third, as the crisis became evident, Gov. Gray Davis made a political promise not to raise retail rates. Although he ultimately reversed that stand, it left utilities with huge, rapidly escalating debts, and little hope of collecting moneys needed to pay them.

Soaring demand met an industry hobbled in its ability to expand, and the state was well on its way towards last year's energy crisis. Among the short term results: PG&E declared bankruptcy, retail rates rose 30%, and California utilities are now billions of dollars in the red, forced to buy power to meet peak-load demand -- in a seller's market.

David E. Trueblood ( is a writer and editor based in Boston.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Conservation Law Foundation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Trueblood, David
Publication:Conservation Matters
Geographic Code:1U1NH
Date:Jun 22, 2001
Previous Article:Energy Keeps Us Going.

Related Articles
21st century boy; MOVIES WITH JOE RILEY: Robot child's hunt for love is fairytale of the future . . .
At themovies; What'sOn for the next seven days.
Testing: The boys from Brazil bring a little extra style.
Trucks and ducks: Riverfront supports neither.
Whitehall embraces initiative to get youngsters into print industry; Jobs & New Directions.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters