Time for N.H. to ditch coal
Twenty-nine deaths from that West Virginia coal mine ought to be enough. Ten thousand tons of pollution a day from coal here in New Hampshire ought to be enough. New Hampshire can do its part. We should now begin the process of responsibly phasing out the dirty coal-burning Merrimack Station in Bow. The result will be much healthier air and a significant boost to our economy. Governor Lynch has shown himself to be a leader on cleaner, more sustainable energy. He was instrumental in creating the Climate Action Plan, which aims to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050. In supporting that long-term goal, the governor acknowledged the truth that New Hampshire is a national leader in efforts to cut pollution, to build a new energy future, and to build a greener economy. Now is the time for further action. The massive amount of dirty air from the Merrimack Station is not something we can keep sweeping under the rug. It’s hard to believe, but the plant emits about 10,000 tons of carbon per day. For some perspective, your average car weighs about two tons. Picture a daily dose of air pollution equivalent to the weight of 5,000 cars. Merrimack Station is the single largest source of pollution in the state. PSNH also has a heck of a lot of political power. In 2006, PSNH rewrote a mercury reduction bill as it was headed for passage specifically to keep the dirty Merrimack plant in business. The goal of the legislation was to reduce mercury — a bio-accumulative neurotoxin — but instead the bill was changed to mandata sulfur “scrubber” that has reducing mercury as a mere side effect.That’s not the most efficient or cost-effective way to get the job done. As passed, the 40-year-old Merrimack Station could keep relying on its wet bottom cyclone boiler while reaping the federal benefits of sulfur credits. The scrubber does nothing to reduce ozone producing nitrous oxides, deadly micro-sized particulate matter emissions and carbon. Merrimack’s owners are now investing an estimated $457 million dollars in the coal-addicted technology. For much less money, they could have built a brand new, far cleaner natural gas plant, creating thousands of new jobs in the process. Instead, they’ll seek to pass on the money invested in continued reliance on coal to — guess who? — us, the ratepayers for the next 20 years or so. PSNH got itself in over its head before spending money it didn’t have to build the Seabrook nuclear reactor. They went bankrupt and the state appropriately stepped in to protect both ratepayers and shareholders and told them to sell to Northeast Utilities. So they’ve gone the wrong way again. It can be corrected. Governor Lynch knows we need to stop burning coal, and has said so. Here is a great opportunity for the governor to lead us toward a coal-free New Hampshire. He should ask PSNH President Gary Long to meet with him and other elected officials, business, labor and local community leaders to work out a reasonable and responsible phase-out of the coal plant in favor of cleaner sources of electricity.Mr. Long has said, “We need to transition to renewable and carbonless sources,” and that, “the development of new native sources of renewable energy is essential for New Hampshire’s energy future.” Now we need a good-faith effort to achieve these goals.With John Lynch’s leadership and the participation of all interested parties, New Hampshire can put this problem behind us and move toward a truly clean energy future while creating thousands of new jobs for our economy.State senator from 1990 to 2004, Burt Cohen hosts a radio show, “The Burt Cohen Show,” which can be heard on WSCA-FM and at TheBurtCohenShow.com.