End in sight for New England's largest coal plant

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

New England's largest coal-fired power plant will close by May 2017, according to its owner.  The Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Massachusetts, consists of three coal-fired units and a unit capable of burning natural gas and oil, with a net generating capacity of 1,537.6 megawatts.  Within 4 years, it will follow other large New England coal-fired power plants like Salem Harbor Power Station into history.

The Salem Harbor Power Station in Salem, Massachusetts, scheduled to close in May 2014.

The forces leading to Brayton Point's closure have been gathering for years.  The U.S. energy industry is in the midst of a revolution led by affordable and abundant natural gas supplies.  Meanwhile, tighter environmental regulations on air emissions from coal-fired power plants have made these traditionally cheap generators more and more expensive to run.  This past March, Brayton Point's previous owner Dominion Resources Inc. announced plans to sell the plant and two other fossil-fired plants to a subsidiary of Energy Capital Partners LLC.  That deal was consummated in August.

In an effort to keep the plant economic, Energy Capital Partners reportedly worked with regional electricity grid operator ISO New England Inc. on an agreement under which Brayton Point would have been paid for its ability to be called upon to provide electric generating capacity when needed.  But when Brayton Point demanded a higher price for this capacity than ISO New England was willing to offer, the generator submitted papers indicating that it would not provide capacity for the 2017-2018 forward capacity year.

Without those capacity market revenues, Brayton Point's owners have said it will close by May 2017, according to AP reports.  If it does, it will follow Salem Harbor and other coal-fired power plants around the country which have either closed or been converted to natural gas.  What will the future hold for Brayton Point's site in Somerset?  With transmission lines already in place, will it be redeveloped with other energy infrastructure?  What environmental issues will closure or repowering entail?

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