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My Turn: Time to retire PSNH’s dirty coal plants

A new report by the New Hampshire Public Utility Commission staff reaffirms that Public Service Company of New Hampshire’s coal-fired power plants are uneconomical and uncompetitive in New Hampshire’s electricity market. It’s clear that New Hampshire families can’t afford to continue supporting these dirty coal plants that pose a risk to our wallets and to our health.

Similar to a report issued last year, PUC expert staff found that PSNH’s coal plants, the only two in New Hampshire, are not economical to operate and never will be.

They state that “over the long term” the rates PSNH charges for electricity “will be substantially higher than market prices,” a leading reason many customers have switched away from PSNH.

Specifically, the report shows that all of PSNH’s power-generating assets are worth just $225 million, a fraction of PSNH’s asserted book costs of $660 million. The $435 million difference is roughly the same as the cost PSNH is seeking to recover for a poorly planned investment in upgrades at its Merrimack Station coal plant in Bow.

As a result, the report discusses the implications of PSNH divesting, or selling, these assets. However, the fact that these coal plants will never be competitive should signal that it’s time to retire, not merely sell, the polluting facilities.

The harmful health effects of burning coal are undeniable.

Pollution from coal-burning plants, even those with new pollution controls, threatens our air, water, and climate. Communities living near PSNH’s Schiller Station coal plant in Portsmouth are so concerned about the prevalence of asthma and respiratory disease in their community that they have petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate pollution from the plant.

Studies have shown that Schiller, one of the oldest power plants in the nation, can emit enough harmful sulfur dioxide pollution to violate healthy air standards in both New Hampshire and Maine.

Such sulfur dioxide pollution means more severe asthma attacks, emergency room visits, and missed days of school and work for New Hampshire residents. According to the National Academy of Sciences, the harm to human health alone from the average coal-fired power plant costs us $156 million a year.

Then there are the myriad additional costs on the horizon that will put PSNH’s customers at even greater risk if the coal plants stay in operation. New federal limits on dangerous carbon pollution and health safety standards for coal pollution are just around the corner, and the EPA is expected to rule on Schiller’s dangerous pollution in the next several months.

Yet, despite the findings of the PUC report, and the poor decision to spend nearly a half-billion dollars on Merrimack Station, PSNH wants to keep doing more of the same.

It is proposing to spend even more with a multi-million dollar investment at the aging Schiller Station on the Seacoast when it’s clear that the plant is no longer a smart investment.

Across the country utilities are retiring similarly uneconomical coal plants, but PSNH has no incentive to make responsible choices if they believe their customers will continue to bail them out.

Contrary to PSNH’s recent scare tactics, cold-weather events like the polar vortex don’t change this bleak picture. The PUC report correctly states that issues around winter-time gas constraints will be resolved and any remaining financial value derived from coal capacity during these cold spells will diminish over time.

New Hampshire is facing major decisions about our energy future.

We can stay stuck in the past with more expensive and polluting fossil fuels like coal and gas, or choose to invest in a clean, safe, and healthy energy future with renewable resources like wind, solar, and energy efficiency that will create jobs and grow our economy.

PSNH’s coal-fired power plants are endangering our air, water, health, and climate. New Hampshire families don’t deserve more dirty air, sick kids or bad decisions by PSNH. It’s time to retire PSNH’s dirty coal plants and start building a healthier energy future for New Hampshire.

(Jerry Curran is the New Hampshire Sierra Club chapter chairman in Amherst.)

Legacy Comments14

The Sierra Club - Go figure. This guy hasn't got a clue. Wind and Solar? Wind and solar cannot and will never be a primary source of power here in the northeast. Neither of them are dependable and to date there is no way, nor will there ever be, to store huge quantities of power. Merrimack Station is the 2nd cleanest coal fired power plant in the country and 'they' still want to shut it down. These people can never be reasoned with so why try.

I live about 10 miles from Merrimack Station and have asthma. When I am suffering from an asthma attack the same time it is running - and trust me I only have attacks when it is running - you want to claim this is the 2nd "Cleanest" coal plant in the country? These people you talk about represent me and others like me who suffer from critical health symptoms that are made worse by that dirty coal plant.

I think that the solution is to stay inside on those days.

did you live there before the power plant was built or did you move there knowing it was there?

PSNH didn't spend (or waste) $435,000,000 on the Bow smoke stack for hoots and hollers, the environmental extortionists like the Sierra Club, aided and abetted by EPA forced it up on them. BPR is right, Monitor; where's the other side?

Where do you guys get this information? The scrubber was mandated by the legislature and the Sierra Club had nothing to do with it. The Sierra Club wants it shut down, not operating with the scrubber. Further, there have been articles printed in this paper covering PSNH's side, just do a search. Doesn't matter anyway, this will be decided base on legalities and economics. BPR/Sail's broad slaps at the CM and liberals are out of place here and have nothing to do with how this will be resolved.

This letter is a perfect example of the left not understanding peak power demand....... ironically they are also against the clean reliable abundant cheap power from Northern Pass.

Actually, no, it's a perfect example of an economic regulator doing their job and protecting the interests of PSNH's ratepayers. If the ratepayers are paying too much for the plant, their bills should be reduced. One could have easily written this article about a solar PV or wind plant that was overvalued on the company's books. It's just dollars and sense.

You state that the left is against the northern pass, well then how do explain Itsa being strongly against it. Did the thought ever occur to you that someone could be for or against something without a political party being involved. Yes I do know about peak demand, PSNH had to run it's aviation fueled plants to meet peak demand. The other issue here is that the Bow plants coal fired turbines are no longer run on a continuous basis, instead are there for peak. needs but It is cheaper for PSNH to buy power on the open market than generate itself.

Please tell us why the Northfield Mountain Reservoir is unique in the annals of Peak Power regarding the buying of power at market prices

Why? Do you imagine that you know something I don't, not hardly. Besides I thought we were talking about coal not hydro?

That is Proof you know nothing about peak power in the ISO grid of New England.... but again choose to comment. stop digging

Again you use your typical canned response instead of addressing the comment. What does Northfield Mtn have to do with this topic - nothing. When called out on it you say that is proof. Proof of what? We are not talking about the ISO Grid, we are talking about the Bow coal plant. Given your responses I am quite surprised that you could spell ISO. So before you try and tell me I know nothing you better have more to come at me with rather than that juvenile response. Is there something specific about Northfield Mtn or ISO NE you want to know about, you have to be clearer when asking.

A good paper would never allow such a skewed screed from the Sierra Club to go without a balanced counterpoint. Then again when a liberal rag like never wants to spur debate on public policy - they want to dictate it.

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