Merrimack Station: A Fifty Year NH Disaster Continues

merrimack station

Merrimack Station, the coal fired power plant on the banks of the Merrimack River in Bow New Hampshire, has recently passed its fiftieth anniversary. It’s New England’s last remaining coal plant.

It’s also NH’s  largest point source of carbon pollution. The plant owners, Granite Shore Power,  proclaim that they  scrupulously comply with EPA and state regulations. The plant uses the Merrimack River water for cooling and dumps heated water into the Merrimack as the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions and asthma causing particulates pour into the air.

I spent a lot of time in the NH winter  being able to kayak south of the plant even in the coldest weather. To the north, the river was usually almost frozen solid. But south of the plant, down river  the ice had been melted  by the hot water. The river is quite attractive if you have your back to the power plant. I could  kayak on the coldest days, paddling along with small to medium sized ice flows moving down river. I paddled hard and stayed warm and tried to forget about the power plant. Winter kayaking when heavy snow is falling without wind also treated me to a stunning optical illusion. The snow appeared to be rising out of the water and into the sky.

In October 2022, a trial began in Federal Court in Concord NH. The Conservation Law Foundation and the Sierra Club.  challenged  the  ecological consequences of continuing dumping hot water into the Merrimack,  calling for installation of cooling towers. Merrimack Station  runs now as a peaking plant dispatched by  the New England ISO (Independent System Operator) as needed.

Operating the coal plant as a standby “peaker” is  profitable.  The latest deal is for 2025-2026 and  Granite Shore Power receives $785,000 per month for being on call that amounts to $9,420,000 a year. The costs being paid by captive ratepayers. There is a wide range of renewable power and energy storage  options to meet the needs of the forward capacity market. California’s use of battery systems, as opposed to natural gas peaking plants,  has made this abundantly clear. We can  use, for example, electronically networked virtual power plants combining solar wind and storage that will include the batteries of EVs.

Carbon Dioxide Emissions Soar 

The fifty year life of Merrimack Station also corresponds with the catastrophic global increase since 1970 of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide green house gas pollution.   The numbers are astonishing.

Carbon dioxide rose from 280 parts per million  (ppm) , stable for 10,000 years, to 419 ppm on February 4, 2023. But what is startling is that  in 1970 atmospheric carbon dioxide was just 315 parts per million (ppm). It took 200 years to increase carbon dioxide concentration  by 35 parts per million. In the fifty year life of the Bow Plant global carbon dioxide increased  104 parts per million as we are rapidly approaching irreversible climate disaster. The last time that carbon dioxide was above 400 ppm was at least 800,000 years ago.

Somehow, a half century of mushrooming global carbon dioxide and other green house gas pollution is generally   in full compliance with law and regulation. EPA approved.  Humanity is now responsible for some 37 billion tons  (gigatons) of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions each year.

It’s certainly  time to stop NH ratepayers from being  forced to pay Granite Shores $9.4 million a year to pour carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. ISO New England  shouldn’t permit a coal plant, absent 100% carbon capture, to bid in  the Forward Capacity Market and get paid to continue to pollute. Operation of Merrimack Station means embracing ecological catastrophe.

Roy  Morrison Builds solar plants His latest book is The New Green Republic

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