Cambridge power plant permit called a rare ‘win-win’
By Brian P. Nanos
Wicked Local Cambridge, 2/3/2011
Cambridge — Three years ago, the discharge permit for Kendall Station’s power plant was a point of contention. The Environmental Protection Agency had proposed regulations for the site that no one seemed to be happy with.
On one side of the equation were the operators of the plant, a company now known as Houston-based GenOn Energy, was arguing that the EPA’s proposed regulations for the Cambridge power plant were too strict.
“The company hit on everything, but probably temperature was the thing that put them over the edge,” recalled David Webster, the EPA’s regional chief industrial perimeter. “They said, ‘That will be our financial ruin.’”
On the other side, two organizations, the Charles River Watershed Association and the Conservation Law Foundation, had teamed up to argue that the regulations didn’t go far enough.
This week, the EPA announced the finalization of a new discharge permit that all of the above organizations are counting as a win — a situation that Charles River Watershed Association director of projects Kate Bowditch called “kind of unusual.”
“It’s what’s known in the business as a ‘win-win situation,’” Conservation Law Foundation senior counsel Peter Shelley wrote on that company’s website.
The Kendall power plant, previously known as Mirant, cools leftover steam by running it past water that has been taken from the Charles River. According to the environmental groups, that process — called a “once through” system — could potentially harm the local habitat both by pulling small organisms into the system and by releasing warm water back into the river.
The company has always sold steam to Boston, and according to GenOn spokeswoman Paige Kane, the company would have liked to sell more of the steam rather than using river water to cool it. But it didn’t have willing customers in Cambridge and didn’t have the means to get that much steam to potential customers in Boston.
“We still had a lot of excess steam,” she said. “We thought if we could sell more steam we could address this problem.”
A potential solution to the problem came in the form of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s decision to renovate the Longfellow Bridge. The fact that the bridge was already slated for construction made it reasonable for the company to consider building a bigger pipeline to ship steam over to Boston.
The excess heat that conservation organizations worried is harming local fish populations will instead be used to make the company more profit.
“Instead of throwing away that heat they’re going to capture all of it,” Bowditch said. “I have to give them full credit,” Bowditch said. “They came up with the idea.”
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