October 8, 2013

Update: Brayton Point to close in 2017

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*This is an update to our recent story on the worst polluters in Massachusetts*


By Andy Metzger

Read our original investigation

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, OCT. 8, 2013……Brayton Point, a seldom-used and recently sold coal plant in Somerset, will shut down as of May 2017, news that came as a great surprise to lawmakers.

“The town is reeling. There’s no other way to say it. We’re reeling,” said Rep. Patricia Haddad, a Somerset Democrat, who said the town lacks space for commercial development and has yet to come to an agreement on the taxes the plant’s new owner would pay. She said, “In order to replace that kind of tax base we’d need about 20 big box stores.”

One of three remaining coal plants in the state, Brayton Point was unable to keep up with the cheaply fueled natural gas plants, its new owner EquiPower said in a statement. Electric grid overseers on Monday notified its reliability committee that Brayton Point had submitted a retirement request.

The plant is located on a 306-acre parcel and its previous owner, Dominion, estimated $1.1 billion in improvements have been made at the plant since 2005. Dominion described Brayton point as “one of New England's largest fossil-fueled generating facilities,” with four generating units capable of producing enough electricity to power about 1.5 million homes.

The planned closure was cause for some consternation by Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy House Chairman John Keenan, a Salem Democrat, who was able to secure passage of a law providing for a natural gas plant to redevelop a soon-to-shutter coal plant in his city.

“I think we all have to hasten our efforts to figure out what this is going to all mean, not only for the reliability of the grid, but most importantly for those communities impacted in terms of their property taxes,” Keenan told the News Service. He said, “Worst case scenario, how do you clean up the site? Absolute worst case scenario.”

Keenan said Salem was able to conduct a study about three or four years ago to determine the best use for the Salem Harbor plant, which determined a new power plant would be the best usage for the site.

Last year’s energy law created a task force to look at Mount Tom in Holyoke and Brayton Point, the only two remaining coal plants, and Keenan said that group would likely meet next near the power plant on Mount Hope Bay.

Brayton Point only operates when power demands are greatest, according to grid-operator ISO-New England.

“We understand the impacts that this decision to retire Brayton Point Station will have on the employees of Brayton Point, local community and other stakeholders and we will work to mitigate those impacts to the extent possible” said Brayton Point Energy CEO Curt Morgan, in a statement. “We regret that we were not able to obtain approval from ISO New England to participate in the ISO New England Forward Capacity Market at price levels that would allow Brayton Point to remain viable.”

Environment Massachusetts released a report in September that listed Brayton Point as the second biggest carbon polluter in the state, and protestors demanding its closure and the construction of Cape Wind marched from Fall River to Cape Cod this summer.

Keenan said he did not see an environmental “silver lining” to the news of the closure, and Haddad said environmentalists’ assertions that the property can be redeveloped with little economic impact makes her “wonder what world they’re living in.”

The coal plant, which employs 240 workers, was not able to meet the prices in ISO New England’s futures market, the company said. ISO New England did not respond to a request for comment.

Hartford, Connecticut-based EquiPower purchased the plant from major energy supplier Dominion this summer, closing the deal on Aug. 31, according to company officials.

EquiPower officials declined to stray beyond a statement, and did not say whether the company purchased the plant with the understanding it would shut down in less than four years.

The news was a surprise to Haddad, who said she wants to gather more information and explore alternatives.

“I can’t give up yet,” Haddad told the News Service. She said, “We really need to fight to keep something there.”

The plant is across the water from Fall River, in an area ISO New England has highlighted as in need of more power supply.

“The new company hasn’t finalized a tax treaty with the town,” Haddad said. She said, “What about the 1,500 megawatts? . . . ISO says they don’t need them. I hope they’re absolutely sure.”

Keenan said the power plant had recently added new cooling towers.