Don’t scrub the Bow scrubber

New Hampshire can and must transition to a clean energy future. This transition is necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change, and to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and gas.

That said, we have a lot of work to do. Today, only about 13 percent of New England’s electricity comes from renewable resources (PSNH’s fuel mix is about 17 percent renewable, by comparison). Increasing that number to 25 or 50 or 80 percent will take many years and a huge amount of investment. But if we work together it can be done, and Public Service of New Hampshire is putting real money behind its ideas to lead the way.

In fact, PSNH is pursuing an arsenal of strategies to advance clean energy in New Hampshire. We’re expanding our energy-efficiency programs, piloting alternative energy sources at our facilities, investing in small-scale renewable energy projects in New Hampshire, and forwarding a proposal to bring clean hydroelectric power down from Canada.

We’re also investing in our existing power plants to make sure they’re as clean as possible. At Merrimack Station in Bow, we’re currently halfway through a six-year project to install “scrubber technology” that will significantly cut emissions of mercury and sulfur dioxide. This project is an important middle step in the transition to a clean energy future.

Cutting emissions at PSNH’s largest power plant is critical because we will need it to serve as a “bridge” over the next 10 to 20 years while alternative energy sources are developed and built on a much larger scale. The scrubber will make Merrimack Station one of the cleanest coal plants in the nation.

Many businesses, utilities and other organizations are working to advance renewable projects in New Hampshire, but the challenges are great, and the transition will not occur overnight. In the meantime, Merrimack Station is an ideal “bridging” power plant to invest in.

It is a major asset to our state because it runs on coal, not natural gas, on which the New England region is becoming hugely over-reliant as a fuel source for electric generation.

Coal makes Merrimack Station much less vulnerable to spikes in energy prices and fuel shortages. It gives New Hampshire something to fall back on when other fuel sources are too expensive, or in short supply. And — even with the cost of the scrubber, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative credits and all other known state and federal environmental regulations included — Merrimack Station will continue to produce electricity for consumers at below-market prices.

PSNH has shown through projects like Northern Wood Power and its power supply agreement with the Lempster wind farm that it is very much in support of renewable energy. And the scrubber installation at Merrimack Station will in no way prevent renewable energy development in New Hampshire.

There is an enormous demand for more renewable energy in the region to address climate change issues and meet Renewable Portfolio Standard requirements. PSNH would be building more renewable resources itself if state law allowed.

The choice we face today is not between Merrimack Station and renewable energy development; it is between action and inaction.

We can invest in technology that is required by state law, and supported by PSNH, that will significantly clean up one of New Hampshire’s most reliable and cost-effective power plants. And we can work together to escalate renewable energy projects at the same time.

Or we can spend our time and resources second-guessing a project that is already half done, and paralyze real progress toward a cleaner energy future, indefinitely, as researchers debate what the future will bring.

Gary A. Long is president and chief operating officer of Public Service of New Hampshire.

Categories: Opinion