Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Coal Is About to Disappear from New England

Coal shipments arrived by barge at Brayton Point Power Station on the shores of Mount Hope Bay in Somerset, Mass. The plant has long been a linchpin of the South Coast economy. At its height, it employed more than 250 people and accounted for a third of the local tax base. It is scheduled to close Wednesday. (Credit: Benjamin Storrow/E&E News) Click to Enlarge.
For Pat Haddad, a good day is one when she returns home from the state Legislature to see steam rising from Brayton Point Power Station's twin 497-foot-tall cooling towers.  New England's largest coal plant has long powered the economy in Haddad's hometown of Somerset, a community of 18,000 people on the south coast of Massachusetts.

But good days have been few and far between lately.  Soon, they will be gone altogether. Brayton Point will extinguish its boilers for the final time tomorrow.  When it does, coal will have all but disappeared from this six-state region of 14 million people.  Two small and seldom-used coal plants in New Hampshire will be all that remains of a once-mighty industry.

"The sun is literally and figuratively setting," said Haddad, a Democrat who represents Somerset and three other communities in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.  "It's so hard to see."

If President Trump is to fulfill his promise of reviving the coal industry, it will have to be without New England.  In 2016, Brayton Point's last full year of operation, coal accounted for 2 percent of the region's power generation.

New England policymakers, united by a common electricity market, are increasingly looking to wind, solar and hydro to meet the region's electricity needs.  Their task amounts to a test for states seeking to decarbonize their power sectors without compromising reliability or sending electric bills skyrocketing.

Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, collectively 80 percent of the regional market, have committed to slashing carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050.

Already, they can claim some impressive achievements.  Wholesale electricity prices hit a record low last year, and carbon emissions from the power sector are down nearly 25 percent since 2000.

The challenges are nevertheless formidable.  Natural gas, already 50 percent of the region's power generation, accounts for the majority of planned power plant additions.  Political divisions among the states mean reaching consensus over how to best achieve deep carbon reductions is difficult.  Maine and New Hampshire, in particular, have expressed wariness over their southern neighbors' carbon-cutting goals.

And aging coal, nuclear, and oil units are retiring at a rapid clip, raising concerns about what will replace them.  ISO New England Inc., the regional grid operator, estimates 15 percent of the region's power capacity will have retired by 2020.

Read more at Coal Is About to Disappear from New England

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