By Sylvia Broude, Executive Director,Toxics Action Center.
Yesterday, the new owners of the Brayton Point power plant, New England's largest coal-fired power plant, notified ISO-New England, the operator of the New England electricity grid, that they are closing down in 2017. Sold to Energy Capital Partners, a New Jersey-based energy investment company, barely one month ago, and only a year after completing a $1 billion upgrade of the plant to install pollution controls, Brayton Point Energy, LLC filed a “Non-Price Retirement Request” indicating that the plant will be retired by no later than June 2017.
This is big news for local residents who have been working for years for cleaner air and a healthier environment for Somerset and the rest of Southeastern Massachusetts. Brayton Point is one of the biggest polluters for all of New England. According to the U.S. EPA in 2008, Brayton Point emitted more than 37,000 tons of toxic chemicals into the air Studies show this pollution doesn’t only affect Somerset: the majority spreads and settles in cities and towns across a 30-mile radius from the power plant. Mercury has always been a major concern because it is a neurotoxin, with no safe levels of exposure, and in 2010, Brayton Point was responsible for nearly half of all mercury emissions for the state of Massachusetts.
But Brayton Point hasn’t been the only source of pollution for Southeastern Massachusetts: for more than 50 years, Somerset hosted two coal-burning power plants, including a power plant called Somerset Station LLC that operated for much of the 20th century and closed its doors in 2010. With an economy based around coal power generation, Somerset needs all the help it can get to work towards a new, healthier and thriving economy. Now the real fight begins in transitioning this former coal community towards a 21st century innovation economy.
Toxics Action Center, Clean Water Action, and other members of Coal Free Massachusetts, have organized side by side with local community group Coalition for Clean Air South Coast for years to plan ahead for a transition away from coal at Brayton Point. The community made it clear that they wanted a healthier economy for Somerset, and the new owner listened. We hope Energy Capital Partners will join local residents at the table to discuss cleanup and reuse and negotiate a transition plan with power plant workers. Somerset can be a model for other coal communities in New England to shift away from archaic dirty energy and towards clean industry, renewable energy, and the innovation economy.
We hope Energy Capital Partners will take responsibility for decommissioning and cleanup when Brayton Point closes, and work with local and state leaders to attract new development. We’ve seen communities across the country successfully redevelop coal plant sites, and we need to make that vision a reality here. Because Somerset and other coal host communities deserve to remain whole.
Sylvia Broude, Executive Director,
Toxics Action Center - A New England-wide public health and environmental non-profit that organizes with communities to clean up and prevent pollution