Editorials

PSNH coal plant needs to be phased out

Thursday, January 28, 2010

By JANET WARD

Special to the Cabinet

Residents of New Hampshire could be better served by the New Hampshire Energy and Climate Collaborative, launched by Gov. John Lynch in March.

The collaborative’s mission, based on a statewide Climate Action Plan, is to track and help to implement efforts to address the effects of climate change caused in part by the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide has been demonstrated to be a key contributor to climate change.

PSNH’s coal-fired electricity plant in Bow, Merrimack Station, is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide in our state. This plant emits 3.7 million tons of carbon dioxide every single year. The collaborative could achieve the Climate Action Plan’s goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 3.44 metric tons by 2025 by exploring the possibility of phasing out this coal-fired plant, but the collaborative has yet to even consider this possibility.

A minority report of the Climate Action Plan recommended that there be an objective study to determine whether the continued operation of Merrimack Station is necessary.

Must New Hampshire residents accept the environmental damage, health impacts and rising energy costs associated with this coal-burning facility? To date, the collaborative has taken no action on this recommendation. For the N.H. Energy and Climate Collaborative to conduct its work without considering the health, environmental or economic impact of the Merrimack plant is to ignore the elephant in the room. Can the energy produced by the Merrimack plant be replaced by other, cleaner energy? This is a question worth answering as soon as possible.

Some might argue that we must retain Merrimack Station, because construction of a $457 million scrubber at the plant is already under way. To such an argument, I would reply that in 2006, New Hampshire legislators decided to mandate the scrubber to protect residents from the toxic effects of mercury pollution. In 2006, legislators did not foresee the collapse of the U.S. economy or the projected savings from aggressive energy-conserving measures leading to lower demand for electricity, more recent compelling scientific evidence of damage from climate change, and the increasing costs associated with coal-derived power. We have an opportunity to contain our losses by closing the plant instead of multiplying those losses by keeping it running.

Oregon utility Portland General Electric considered the current status of coal-fired electricity generation and decided to work toward the closure of Oregon’s only coal-fired, baseload power plant two decades ahead of its scheduled shutdown. The 35-year-old Boardman plant produces 550 megawatts. In a Jan. 14 letter to the Oregon Public Utilities Commission, Portland General Electric president Jim Piro said, “We think an alternative plan could reduce cost and risk for our customers … ”

While leaving PSNH’s Merrimack Station online will provide profit for PSNH shareholders, continued operation of this plant will mean that New Hampshire ratepayers will see steady increases in their electric bills. This coal-fired plant represents not only an economic burden for our residents, but a continuing and escalating threat to human health and to our environment.

Authentic public service demands that the collaborative immediately address the need to “evaluate the potential to replace existing coal-fired generation” as called for in the Climate Action Plan, and that the Public Utilities Commission exercise its fiduciary responsibility to protect the public against unjustified rate increases. If PSNH is truly a responsible corporate citizen, it will recognize its obligation to study and make public compelling reasons for keeping Merrimack Station up and running – if such reasons exist.

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