Friday, March 27, 2009

New Hampshire Climate Action Plan Raises Questions About Future of State's Only Coal Power Plant

On March 25, Governor John Lynch’s Climate Change Task Force released the New Hampshire Climate Action Plan. The plan’s release is likely to raise some new questions about the future of the Granite State’s only coal burning power plant, Merrimack Station. In 2006, the state passed a law requiring Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) to install scrubbers designed to reduce mercury and sulfur dioxide emissions at the plant. Since then, PSNH has increased the estimated cost of the scrubber project from $250,000,000 to $457,000,000. The increase has led many in the state to question whether keeping the plant open is worth the long-term costs to PSNH ratepayers, as well as to the environment.

The Climate Change Task Force worked for more than a year to create the plan, which lays out ambitious mid-term and long-term goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It recommends reducing emissions 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2025, and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. It also recommends a total of 67 actions that policy makers can take to start the hard work of achieving these goals.

The plan acknowledges that implementing all 67 of the recommended actions would only reduce emissions to 16.4% percent below 1990 levels by 2050, falling well short of the 80 percent target. This shortfall is explained as follows:

“This action plan contains those measures that the Task Force believes will be most effective in rapidly addressing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions over the next one to two decades while positioning the residents, government, businesses, industries, and not-for-profits to achieve still greater future reductions as technological, economic, political and social changes allow.”

This approach is worthy of praise in that it recognizes the need to take immediate action to curb global warming pollution. Still, the plan contains one rather obvious omission. It fails to call for the eventual shutdown of Merrimack Station. The 41-year old plant is responsible for 20 percent of New Hampshire’s greenhouse gas emissions, and the costly $457,000,000 scrubber installation project will do nothing to reduce these emissions. Replacing the plant with a cleaner alternative could make a big difference in the long-term.

This omission is particularly interesting given that the plan lists the burning of fossil fuels for energy production as one of three main sources of greenhouse gas emissions in New Hampshire. As a solution, the plan calls for the increased use of renewable, low-CO2 sources of energy to reduce the state’s reliance on fossil fuels. It also emphasizes the potential economic benefits of developing in-state sources of renewable energy:

“In addition, to the extent that in-state energy resources can reduce the dependence on imported fossil fuel, such resources will result in more dollars staying in New Hampshire, thus having a positive impact on non-energy sectors of the state economy.”

While the plan does not explicitly calling for the eventual closure of the Merrimack Station, it certainly raises some interesting questions about the future of the coal power in New Hampshire. PSNH customers will be asked to pay for the $457,000,000 cost of the current scrubber project, and for future any upgrades that will be need to keep the aging plant in compliance with state and federal environmental regulations.

State Senator Harold Janeway has proposed a bill, SB 152, that would require the Public Utilities Commission to compare the costs associated with keeping Merrimack Station open with those associated with alternative means for meeting the energy needs of PSNH customers. These alternatives include investment of renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. Either alternative would create new green jobs for New Hampshire, and help to protect the environment.

The public has a definite interest in learning more about the economic and environmental costs associated with the future operation of Merrimack Station. Let’s hope that lawmakers in Concord read through the lines and realize that the New Hampshire Climate Action Plan provides good reason for voting for SB 152.


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