Managers of Massachusetts power plant plead guilty over false reporting

The owner and management company for the Berkshire Power Plant have agreed to plead guilty to tampering with emissions equipment and submitting false information to both environmental and energy regulators.

The former plant operation and maintenance company also agreed to pay a state civil penalty, added U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in a March 30 statement. This case resolution followed a joint federal and state investigation into allegations that managers of the Berkshire Power Plant in Agawam, Massachusetts, tampered with its air pollution monitoring equipment and falsely reported data to environmental and energy regulators regarding its emissions levels and its availability to produce power. 

“This resolution addresses a pattern of behavior by multiple persons and entities in obstructing the enforcement of laws designed to protect the air we breathe,” said Ortiz. “The comprehensive resolution, including the first ever criminal charges for false statements to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, demonstrates the seriousness with which we take conduct which undermines environmental compliance and the fair regulation of energy markets.”

“The deliberate scheme Berkshire Power Plant management and staff undertook gave them an unfair competitive advantage over responsible companies, and undermined a system that depends on honest data reporting,” said Tyler Amon, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division in Boston.

“Fraud against the Commonwealth is very serious and will be aggressively prosecuted, criminally and civilly, by this Office, especially when the consequence of the fraud is to expose the public to health and safety risks,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Healey.

Berkshire Power Co. (BPC), the owner of Berkshire Power Plant, and Power Plant Management Services (PPMS), the plant manager, agreed to plead guilty to felony charges that they violated and conspired to violate the federal Clean Air Act. These charges arose from air pollution monitoring equipment tampering and related false emissions reporting between 2009 and 2011. PPMS also agreed to plead guilty to charges that it violated the Federal Power Act, the first ever criminal charges under this statute, for making false statements to the regional power grid administrator, ISO New England, regarding the plant’s availability to produce power. 

Under the terms of the plea agreements, BPC and PPMS agree to pay a total of $4.25 million related to the criminal charges.

  • BPC will pay $2.75 million in criminal fines for the Clean Air Act violations and make a $750,000 community service payment to the American Lung Association to fund a program for the replacement of polluting wood burning stoves in western Massachusetts.
  • PPMS will pay $500,000 in criminal fines for the Clean Air Act and Federal Power Act violations and make a $250,000 community service payment to the American Lung Association’s wood stove change-out program.

Between them, BPC, PPMS, and the plant’s former operation and maintenance company, EthosEnergy Power Plant Services LLC (formerly Wood Group Power Plant Services LLC), will also pay over $4 million in civil penalties. EthosEnergy agreed to resolve allegations that it violated sections of the Commonwealth’s Public Health Law dealing with air pollution stemming from its employees’ involvement with the air pollution monitoring equipment tampering at the plant. Under the terms of the state Consent Judgment, EthosEnergy will pay a $1.1 million civil penalty, and make a $200,000 payment to fund the installation of electric vehicle charging stations in the Commonwealth. 

In addition to the criminal fines outlined above, BPC and PPMS have agreed to pay $3,042,563 plus interest to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in civil penalties and disgorgement for their misrepresentations to ISO New England regarding the plant’s availability to produce power.

According to documents filed in federal and state court, between January 2009 and March 2011, BPC engaged PPMS to manage the plant, including overseeing day-to-day operations and maintenance and to act as the owner’s representative for the plant. A PPMS employee served as the plant General Manager and as BPC’s on-site representative. BPC also retained Wood Group during this same time to provide the day-to-day plant operation and maintenance. 

PPMS and BPC caused the Wood Group employees at the plant to tamper with the plant’s air pollution monitoring equipment to conceal the fact that the plant was emitting air pollutants in excess of permitted levels, prosecutors said. This tampering was accomplished by intentionally biasing the plant’s Continuous Emissions Monitoring System so it would show lower emissions levels than were actually being produced. BPC and PPMS then used this inaccurate data in filing required emissions reports with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. The purpose of the tampering was to avoid lost revenues that would have resulted from reducing power production to stay within the plant’s air pollution emissions limits, or by taking the 0lant out of service to implement needed repairs of the pollution control and other equipment.

During the course of the tampering investigation, criminal investigators also learned that PPMS made and caused staff at the plant to make false statements to ISO New England about the plant’s availability to produce power for the New England grid. They also caused staff at the plant to falsely claim to the ISO that the plant was available to produce power when it was not.

In light of the fact Wood Group spearheaded the disclosure of the tampering conduct to USEPA and MassDEP, and provided a high level of cooperation during the case, the case against EthosEnergy is being resolved with a civil settlement.     

The details contained in the criminal information and civil complaint are allegations. The defendants in the criminal cases are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.  By entering into the Consent Judgment, EthosEnergy does not admit to the truth of the allegations contained in the complaint, prosecutors noted.

Outside data shows the Berkshire plant as a 245-MW, gas-fired, combined-cycle facility.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.