Protests will seek to ‘shut down’ Merrimack Station power plant in Bow

Monitor staff
Published: 8/2/2019 5:36:55 PM

Some environmental groups are taking aim at Merrimack Station in Bow, one of the largest coal-fired power plants still operating in New England, planning protests in late September that they hope will “shut the plant down.”

Details are still being worked out by a loose coalition of activists. The protests are being scheduled as part of international Global Climate Strike from Sept. 20 to 27, which will feature a number of events around the world urging government action to cope with the climate crisis.

“There’s a new coalition forming of grassroots groups and individuals (in New England). ... The thought is that it’s 2019, we’ve waited and hoped the plant in Bow would be taken offline on its own, that our elected officials would take action to address the climate crisis by ending the burning of coal in New England,” said Lila Kohrman-Glaser, operations manager for 350 New Hampshire, one of several groups that is involved.

“We can’t sit around and wait. We hoped that when it was sold, it would be brought offline on its own, but it wasn’t, so it’s time for us to take action,” she said.

A recruitment pitch from 350VT, a Vermont group that is also part of the coalition, put it this way: “This six-plus month campaign, timed with the New Hampshire presidential primary for maximum political punch, kicks off this August and build towards mass action at the end of September. Then, as part of the Global Climate Strike and Week of Actions in September, we’ll be descending on the Merrimack Generating Station with dozens of organizations and grassroots groups. Together we will shut the plant down and let the ripples spread across the region.”

The protest also includes the Boston-based Climate Disobedience Center.

Coal-fired power plants are a prime target of climate change concern because coal releases the most greenhouse gases of any fuel used in electricity production. Its use in the United States is falling sharply, partly because it cannot compete with cheap electricity produced by natural gas and increasingly by renewable sources, but coal still generates about one-quarter of the country’s electricity.

Its use in New England is now negligible, but as recently as the year 2000, coal was the source of about 15% of New England’s electricity.

The 440-megawatt Merrimack Station is one the last large coal-fired power plants in New England. Only the 485-megawatt Bridgeport Harbor Station in Connecticut rivals it, and that plant is scheduled to close by 2021.

Two 50-megawatt power plants at Schiller Station in Portsmouth are the only other coal-fired plants in New England. The third Schiller plant was converted to burning wood more than a decade ago.

All these plants bought from Eversource last year by Granite Shore Power, a company created by investors to own and operate them.

Because operating these older coal-fired plants is relatively expensive, they don’t run very often. But they are still called into action when necessary; during last week’s heat wave, for example, at certain times 2% of New England’s electricity was being generated by coal, according to ISO-New England, which runs the six-state power grid. That was a bigger percentage than solar power and wind power, combined.

Financially, the Granite Shore Power plants stay open in large part because of what are known as capacity payments – money given to power plants so that they will remain on call, ready to put power into the grid when needed. Merrimack Station received capacity payments of $50.7 million in 2018, on top of any money it made selling electricity into the grid.

Supporters say such payments are necessary to ensure the lights stay on during extreme heatwaves or during cold snaps when New England’s natural gas is used for heating rather than power. Opponents call the payments a subsidy that props up the fossil-fuel industry.

The Granite Shore Power purchase from Eversource totaled $175 million and included a natural gas-fired plant in Newington and two turbines powered by jet fuel in Groveton and Tamworth that are kept available to provide quick bursts of electricity in emergencies.

Kohrman-Glaser said she feels civil disobedience is becoming necessary because of the scope of the problem. She pointed to estimates that one hour of power from a coal-fired plant the size of Merrimack Station generates as much greenhouse gas emissions as is produced by an American during a quarter-century of living.

“We have to be clear that individual action is not the answer. If one hour of that plant has as much emissions as my whole life ... then as long as that plant is operating, my actions are useless,” she said.

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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