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Peabody Peak Capacity Generator Need Not Burn Fossil Fuels

Something is fishy off Pulaski Street by the Waters River in Peabody, Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC) plans to build a fossil fuel-powered 55-megawatt generator. The peak capacity generator would operate about 239 hours a year to meet the surge capacity energy needs of fourteen power plants.

This makes no sense when a battery powered facility on Monterey Bay CA led to the closure of three nearby peak capacity generators powered by fossil fuels. You’d think MMWEC, with some of the highest percentages of renewable energy, would know better and not break the law of the Next Generation Roadmap.

The Moss Landing, California, 300 MW the Vistra Energy system is the world’s largest lithium-ion battery.  It is so effective that Pacific Gas & Electric in July 2020, having been delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, began construction of a 182.5 MW facility (“Elkhorn”) provided by Tesla.

The MMWEC peak generator in Peabody would operate primarily during extreme weather events, not the best conditions for powering up gas turbines. It will produce 55 megawatts, about one tenth the power of the big battery in California. At this scale there are alternatives to lithium-ion batteries. Currently available are pumped hydro, gravity-based, compressed air and flow batteries.

Pumped hydro is the most common. The hydroelectric station inside Northfield Mountain where the Deerfield River meets the Connecticut River has five-billion gallons of water in a mountain-top reservoir.  Electricity is generated when water falls hundreds of feet down internally inside the hollowed mountain.

These days, there is no such mountain in Peabody. However, a high water tower that rivals the coal-fired power stack over Salem might be a welcome navigational aid out at sea.  A water tower would be much more benign for folks and fowl living along the Waters River than would a fossil fuel-fired peak capacity generator.  One could put a restaurant on top and bring the Seattle space needle home to innovative and forward thinking Peabody.

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