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Environmentalists drop appeals of Mass. gas plant permits after emissions ruling


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Environmentalists drop appeals of Mass. gas plant permits after emissions ruling

The Conservation Law Foundation withdrew challenges to the permits for two Massachusetts natural gas-fired power plants after a recent and separate court decision affirmed new and tougher emissions limits on all generators in the state.

The foundation's, or CLF's, appeals, which objected to the emissions levels allowed under permits for the 350-MW Canal 3 (CT) power plant in Sandwich and a 200-MW expansion project adjacent to the Medway CT plant in Medway, were filed before Massachusetts' Department of Environmental Protection, or DEP, in August 2017 issued new annually declining emissions limits for generators under a mass-based greenhouse gas cap. Those new limits, designed to meet reduction targets of 25% by 2020 from 1990 levels and 80% by 2050, effectively made the emissions levels allowed under the two projects' permits illegal.

On Sept. 4, the new DEP emissions rules were upheld and reinforced by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which reaffirmed the state's authority and obligation to set progressively declining annual limits on how much carbon pollution a power plant can emit. As a result, the CLF on Oct. 4 withdrew its appeals against the state Energy Facilities Siting Board over the permitting of Stonepeak Kestrel Holdings LLC's Canal 3 project and Exelon Corp. subsidiary Exelon Generation Co. LLC's West Medway II expansion project. Canal 3's previous owner, NRG Energy Inc. subsidiary GenOn Energy Inc., sold the plant in July to the Stonepeak Partners LP subsidiary.

Claiming victory, the pro-renewable CLF said, "there's no need for us to continue these individual plant lawsuits because both power plants are now covered by tough new emissions regulations. Their polluting emissions must now, by law, decline year after year through 2050."

The finalized DEP regulations issued in 2017 specifically set a sectorwide, annually declining limit on aggregate carbon dioxide emissions from Massachusetts' 21 large fossil fuel-fired power plants, falling from 8.96 million metric tons in 2018 to 1.8 million metric tons in 2050. The new rules also require utilities to procure an increasing proportion of electricity from low- and zero-emissions generation, starting with 16% of their electricity sales in 2018 and increasing annually to 80% in 2050.