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Another 1.5 Gigawatts of Coal-fired Energy to be Retired

Brayton Point Power Station to closeThe state of Massachusetts (MA) has 1,530 megawatts of amazing news for the citizens of our planet: the Brayton Point Power Station will be officially retired in May 2017.  Why is this such huge news you may ask?  The Brayton Point plant is the largest coal-fired power plant in all of New England and burns through an estimated 40,000 tons of coal every three days.  Though it is the largest coal plant in New England, it is actually only the second dirtiest in MA in terms of carbon dioxide emissions (3.26 million tons in 2011), with the most polluting power plant title held by the Mystic Generating Station, which belched out 3.64 million tons of CO2 that same year.  At peak performance, the Brayton Point Power Station provides electricity for ~1.5 million American homes, but the void created by its closure will be filled by natural gas-fired generation and renewable energy.

Pollution from smoke stacksEnergy Capital Partners recently bought Brayton Point from Virginia-based Dominion, but despite the two groups investing billions of dollars into the plant with upgrades over the past several years, the coal behemoth was still forecasted to lose $3 million next year.  Combine this operating loss with even greater losses likely to come in the future as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposes and enacts new rules for existing power plants in 2014, the future for the plant looked about as ominous as a toxic plume of coal-generated exhaust.  Further exemplifying the death knell of coal, Dominion in 2011 asked for permission to mothball the 60 year old Salem Harbor coal plant, but it was instead later sold to a company that converted it into a natural gas-fired plant.  The closure of Brayton Point marks the 150th coal plant retirement since the inception of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.

The designed lifespan for coal-fired plants is 30 years, but the youngest of the four generating units at Brayton Point is an arthritic 39 years old and the oldest has been spewing pollution for half a century.  According to the Environment America Research and Policy Center, half of the country’s coal power plants are between 40-60 years old so we can reasonably expect that more retirements will be coming in the future.  Economic reasoning simply dictates that the upkeep of such old technology, combined with rising fuel prices, and impending mandatory system upgrades would lead to a power plant losing money if it were to keep running.  The plant employs 240 people and though they will be let go when the plant closes, the company says it will do everything it can to mitigate the impact to the employees and their local communities.

The era of coal has had a nice long run and has been instrumental in guiding humankind since the Industrial Revolution, but it is without doubt walking on its last legs.  But alas, the age of renewable energy has arrived and every four minutes a solar energy system is installed in the U.S. and it won’t be long before solar power is installed every minute and a half.  The future construction of coal power plants in America is nearly impossible to do because of the economics involved, and though the developing world is still consuming coal, the World Bank has finally decided to stop funding dirty energy and save its energy funds for solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and other alternative energy sources.


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Jeremy is a Fellow at Mosaic working primarily with search engine optimization (SEO) and writing awesome copy, but he also contributes to all areas of the blog as well.  Before coming to Mosaic, but after graduating from Vassar College, Jeremy explored, meandered and survived many countries in Europe while teaching English to make ends meet.  Before that, he founded a lacrosse camp on Long Island where he developed his passion for startups.  When not working, Jeremy is probably attempting to be active and healthy, unless he’s sitting on the couch watching his beloved Miami Dolphins play on TV.  On Twitter: @mr_JeremyG

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