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June 17, 2009

Middleton eyes a power plant near Candlelite

By Mike Stucka
Staff Writer

MIDDLETON — The town's electric department is hoping to lead a dozen other communities in building a $100 million power plant on the Middleton-North Andover border.

Mark Kelly, the manager of the Middleton Municipal Electric Department, said 13 municipal power companies have already signed on to the project, and several more may join in the next few weeks. The power plant would be built on Sharpners Pond Road, somewhat behind the Candlelite Motor Inn. It would run at times of high electricity demand.

The so-called "peaking" plant would run about 20 percent of the time, most often between the high-demand hours of 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., Kelly said. But that could change if traditional power plants are taken offline or there's high demand for electric heat or air conditioning. Kelly said the plant would be as far as possible from the road to reduce noise for neighbors.

The Sharpners Pond Road site drew controversy a few months ago, when it was being considered for an adult entertainment district in the city. That united neighbors in the rural area. Those neighbors also banded together to fight earlier power plant proposals, including one for a 45-megawatt complex that would have been run by a private company.

Kevin Kiley, who leads Middleton's electric commission, said early estimates call for the power plant to return about $500,000 a year to the town's municipal budget. The power plant could also take care of Middleton's electric needs.

All that's based on the premise the plant could be built economically. A proposal several years ago — for a plant about a third of the size — was withdrawn because it wasn't economically feasible. The latest proposal would be for a plant that could run on both natural gas and oil, giving more options in a volatile fuel and electricity market. Kiley said the light commission will investigate whether building a plant is the cheapest solution to electrical needs.

"We think we can make it for less than we can buy it, let's put it that way," he said yesterday.

Kelly said the town already has commitments for about 110 megawatts of power, or about one-fourth of the electricity planned in the Cape Wind project.

The Middleton plant would be co-owned by the municipal power companies of Middleton and Reading. Other partners would include the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric System, New Hampshire Electric Co-op, and the municipal utility companies of Rowley, North Attleboro, Wakefield, Concord, Merrimac, Littleton, Hingham, Groveland and Georgetown. Danvers, Middleborough and Belmont are also interested but haven't yet sent a letter of interest to the latest proposal.

The electric commissions of Middleton and Reading will further scrutinize the projects, which could go to the next Town Meetings.