Monday, November 01, 2010

Up In Smoke

This is the Salem Harbor Power Station, a coal- and oil-fired power plant that's capable of generating 745 megawatts of dirty energy. That's more electricity than could be produced by all of New England's wind turbines, combined, on the windiest day.

The plant occupies a 65-acre site in the middle of historic Salem, Massachusetts. In fact, the plant's mountainous coal supplies - on a typical day, the plant burns over 700 tons - occupy a quay just a couple of blocks away from Nathaniel Hawthorne's birthplace.

Salem Harbor Power Station. CC-licensed photo by dsearls on Flickr.

According to New England's Conservation Law Foundation, Dominion Energy, the plant's owner, has filed documents to shut down the power plant in the near future. The combination of cheap power from wind turbines and cleaner-burning natural gas plants, combined with increasingly stringent Clean Air Act requirements, seems to be taking its toll on the 60 year-old plant.

This is good news. But New England still has work to do - there are still massive coal-burning power plants operating in our region, in places like Merrimack and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Together, they send tens of millions of tons of greenhouse gas pollutants into the atmosphere on an annual basis, and these other plants have no closure plans in the works. The massive Brayton Point station in Fall River, Massachusetts, for instance, burns over 2 million tons of coal annually, and sent 148 pounds of neurotoxic mercury into the atmosphere in 2005 alone.

If the progressive and wealthy New England states can't shut down their climate-burning coal power stations, how can we possibly expect the rest of the world to do the same?

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