Developer promises there are no environmental risks, but can't cite any research
By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
SOMERSET, Mass. — A massive new energy project is being proposed for the former coal-burning Brayton Point Power Station and the Montaup Power Plant, a long-shuttered coal facility along the west bank of the Taunton River.
During a muddled and at times rambling presentation on Aug. 23, a collection of energy developers outlined solar, biomass, fuel-cell and natural-gas projects with the potential to generate more than 2 gigawatts of electricity from the two locations. By contrast, recently closed Brayton Point had 1,611 megawatts of energy capacity.
The overall project, proposed by GSXI International Group of Houston, is far from approved. The only agreement, so far, is a long-term contract to buy wood pellets from central Texas to fuel a biomass plant. The pellets would be shipped from Texas to Somerset via cargo ship. The town Economic Development Committee hosted the meeting as a public-information event.
The proposals presented conflicting data, but gave a rough outline of the scope of each project, which would be built in three phases. The biomass plant generated the most scrutiny, and about 20 protestors and several local environmental groups rallied outside the public library before the meeting.
Dubbed the Freedom Green Energy Biomass Project, the wood-fired plant is projected to generate between 400 and 1,000 megawatts by using the moth-balled coal boilers at Brayton Point. In a surprise twist, the power facility wouldn't burn the Texas wood pellets, but instead decompose the pellets and burn the emitted gases.
Skeptical residents wanted to know about pollution from emissions. Nilan Pillia, an engineer with GSXI, repeatedly promised that the energy process would generate no harmful pollutants. He couldn't cite any research, nor name a “syn-gas” facility that is already operating. Pillia could only say he’d worked on similar projects in Canada and Australia.
“There is no environmental risks. I can send you the reports,” Pillia said. “It is cleaner than natural gas, it is cleaner than coal.”
According to one of Pillia's charts, the biomass plant would also burn food scrap, animal waste, and leaf and yard waste.
As the audience tried to grasp the unconventional power concept, the meeting shifted to a presentation on solar energy. Details were again sparse, but Seth Mansur, of Intelligen Energy of Worcester, described a 5-to-10-megawatt project comprised of solar carports and rooftop arrays combined with a residential discount program.
The presentation then pivoted to the hydrogen fuel-cell proposal. The audience expected to hear about hydroelectric power. However, Edgar Caballero of Carter Energy Solutions outlined a fuel-cell system that runs on hydrogen and raw sewage or seawater. The project would likely draw water from Mount Hope Bay, according to Caballero. Only carbon dioxide and drinkable water are the byproducts, he said. Although there are several companies developing full-cell energy, there are no industrial-scale power plants.
Caballero disputed the financial payout of residential solar power and touted the subsidy-free benefits of fuel cells. The costs to produce the energy from fuel cells is similar to the cost of generating power from natural gas, he said.
“It’s absolutely perfect, meaning zero emissions,” Caballero said, without addressing the amount of carbon dioxide emissions.
Caballaro explained that the competing hydrogen fuel cells are too expensive to turn a profit, but Carter is using a new, cost-effective 250-megawatt systems from German-based Langenburg Technologies.
In all, the combination of power projects promises 300 to 400 local jobs and $20 million in tax revenue. GSXI said it hopes to buy the Brayton Point site from Dynegy for $15 million. The projects would be built in three phases and cost $800 million.
After the meeting, Sylvia Broude, executive director of the Boston-based Toxics Action Center, said the presentation was shoddy and left her with more questions than answers.
"I continue to be very skeptical that they have a plan that could become a reality for Somerset," she said.
The Brayton Point Power Station operated for 54 years before ceasing operations on May 31. At the time, it was the largest and highest polluting power plant in New England.
The Montaup Power Plant closed Jan. 1, 2010. The 38-acre site has been considered for a number of industrial and commercial uses since its retirement.