What happens with NRG’s Canal Generating Plant, located on the Cape Cod Canal, is worth keeping an eye on, especially given Entergy’s announcement yesterday that Pilgrim will not operate beyond June 2019 (and closure could likely occur even sooner than that).

It’s critical that we keep an eye on the big picture, to make sure one environmentally destructive energy source is not traded for another.

Most recently, we submitted comments to the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) regarding a recent Environmental Notification Form and Waiver Request from NRG. Read our Sept. 18th blog post “Canal Generating Station Asks to Build Solar Project and Canal Unit 3” to learn more about NRG’s proposed project and to read our comments.

We will continue to monitor NRG’s Canal Generating Plant to ensure Cape Cod Bay is protected now and in the future.

Here’s a story that ran in the Cape Cod Times today about the issue, 10/14/15.

Pilgrim’s closure may be opportunity for Canal plant

By George Brennan
gbrennan@capecodonline.com

October 14. 2015 2:00 AM

SANDWICH — Plymouth’s loss could be Sandwich’s gain.

With the closing of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, a shortage of power supply in Southeastern Massachusetts could grow.

The region is already down 238 megawatts from what’s needed in the near future with the planned 2017 closing of Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset. With Pilgrim taking its 680 megawatts of electricity — enough power for 600,000 homes — off the grid by June of 2019, someone will have to fill the void when ISO New England holds its annual auction in February.

NRG may be in the best position to fill at least part of the gap, and Sandwich taxpayers could ultimately be the beneficiaries.

The company, which operates the Canal Generating Plant in Sandwich, has proposed a 330-megawatt gas-fired turbine as a so-called peak-load plant, meaning it would operate on days with the greatest demand: extreme cold and hot days. The proposal is for the turbine to be “dual-fuel capable,” meaning it can switch to ultra-low sulfur distillate, an oil, if natural gas is unavailable or too costly.

Pilgrim is a base-load plant, generating electricity whenever it’s online.

The two existing Canal units are capable of generating more than 1,100 megawatts of power and already operate as peak performers, but what makes the proposed NRG facility different is it would be able to fire up in 10 minutes, allowing it to subsidize electricity generated by solar, wind and fossil fuel plants that unexpectedly go offline.

In meetings with business and town leaders Thursday, NRG officials hinted the proposal on the table might just be a start.

“We view it as a first step in the modernization of that facility,” Thomas Atkins, project manager for NRG, told the Sandwich Board of Selectmen ON Thursday.

Frank Pannorfi, chairman of the Sandwich Board of Selectmen, said the news out of Plymouth could ignite talks about re-powering the other units at the Canal plant with more efficient turbines.

“With Pilgrim gone, the megawatt shortage increases significantly,” Pannorfi said. “Does that provide more of a market for NRG to have this plant run more than what they anticipate? I think the answer is yes. So long as they can compete.”

Re-powering the two turbines at Canal with natural gas could make up for Pilgrim’s loss, state Rep. Randy Hunt, R-Sandwich, said.

“We’ve put ourselves in position where natural gas is the fuel of choice or by default by closing everything else down,” Hunt said.

NRG Canal playing a bigger role in the electricity market could be a property tax boon to Sandwich, which already receives about $2 million per year — a number that’s expected to more than double with the new gas turbine and a 1.5-megawatt solar array proposed by NRG.

That could rise even more if the existing turbines were upgraded, Pannorfi said.

“But this is a stock-owned company and they have to make sure there is financial sense to it,” he said.

NRG would have no comment on Pilgrim’s announcement and what that might mean for the future of the Sandwich plant, company spokesman David Gaier wrote Tuesday in an email.

“With the retirements of a number of power plants over just a few years, it is clear that New England’s electricity system is going through a time of unprecedented change,” according to a statement from the New England Power Generators Association. Still, wholesale electric rates have been low and reliability is sound, according to the statement.

“Losing a base-load plant like Pilgrim puts upward pressure on energy prices, for all Southeastern Massachusetts customers,” said Maggie Downey, administrator for Cape Light Compact, which buys electricity in bulk for customers on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard.

It’s too early to tell what the price implications are of Pilgrim’s retirement, according to Marcia Blomberg, a spokeswoman for ISO New England, the organization that manages the region’s grid and administers the wholesale electricity market. Power to the southeastern part of the state can be subsidized by plants outside the region and even out of state if necessary, she wrote in an email.

Jack Clarke, director of public policy and government affairs for the Massachusetts Audubon Society, wants Pilgrim’s closing to lead to more wind and solar, rather than an even greater reliance on natural gas.

“The proposals we see for pipelines across Massachusetts, four of them, are 50 to 100 year infrastructure investments in fossil fuels,” Clarke said. “We should not invest in long term natural gas infrastructure solutions, like pipelines, that are not a bridge to the future.”

— Follow George Brennan on Twitter: @gpb227.