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Cape Wind firm 'unlikely' to win OK for oil-fueled plant

Cape Wind developer Jim Gordon’s plan for an oil-fueled power plant in Chelsea “appears unlikely” to be able to get state approval, Massachusetts’ top environmental regulator said late yesterday.

The statement came just days after another electricity-generation plan for Massachusetts, the 20-tower Hoosac Wind project on the Florida-Monroe border in the Berkshire hills, was dealt a potentially fatal setback by a state board that ruled its access road would violate wetlands laws.

While Hoosac Wind has attracted both support and opposition on environmental grounds, the Chelsea Peak Energy proposal has faced intense opposition from community and “green” groups.

Many contend putting an oil-burning power plant in a pollution- and poverty-afflicted city would be an environmental injustice.

Gordon’s Energy Management Inc. proposes a 250-megawatt power plant – enough to power 180,000 homes – burning low-sulfur fuel oil up to 1,600 hours a year to generate electricity during periods of peak demand such as hot summer afternoons.

Governor Deval L. Patrick has been a leading supporter of Gordon’s proposal to erect 130 wind-generation turbines in Nantucket Sound, and Gordon in turn was a big campaign backer of Patrick.

But yesterday, Patrick’s administration cut Gordon no slack on the project proposed for the banks of the Chelsea Creek next to a Gulf Oil tank farm.

State Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian A. Bowles , in a 15-page ruling on the draft environmental impact report, said the plan appears not to qualify as a water-dependent project that state environmental laws normally allow on heavily regulated waterfront land.

“At its proposed location, the project appears unlikely to be permitted,” Bowles wrote. “If the proponent chooses to continue through the [regulatory] process, it does so at its own risk.”

Bowles suggested the plant might be feasible on an Everett industrial site, but that location has also drawn local opposition.

Dennis J. Duffy , vice president of government and regulatory affairs for Energy Management, said he could not comment on the complex ruling last evening.

Energy Management argues that the plant would improve, not worsen, air pollution because it would offset the need for dirtier-burning oil and coal power plants in Everett and Salem to run at the equivalent of a fast idle in summer months to cover electricity demand spikes.

Chelsea leaders and environmentalists hailed Bowles’ ruling. “This is a huge victory for the community,” Chelsea City Council President Roseann Giovanni said. “The community will celebrate this, but we realize the war is not over.”

Peter Shelley , director of the Massachusetts Advocacy Center for the Conservation Law Foundation, a Boston environmental group, said, “While the ruling is narrow, it is probably as close to a death blow as this developer could receive for this project at this point in time.” Blasting Gordon for proposing it in “an already environmentally overburdened community,” Shelley said, “We hope that this developer wakes up and abandons this project. ”

On the Hoosac Wind project, Bowles spokesman Robert Keough said , state Department of Environmental Protection officials are studying Wednesday’s 80-page wetlands-based rejection from the Division of Administrative Law Appeals, but haven’t decided yet whether to challenge the division in court.

By Peter J. Howe
Globe Staff


19 May 2007