First in New England: PSNH Is the Region’s Top Toxic Polluter

Christophe Courchesne

The nation’s attention may be focused right now on the twists and turns of New Hampshire’s First in the Nation primary. But new pollution data from the Environmental Protection Agency put a more troubling spotlight on New Hampshire – and on its largest utility, Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSNH). 

According to the data, PSNH is the region’s top toxic polluter, and PSNH’s coal-fired power plant in Bow, Merrimack Station, releases more toxic pollution to the environment than any other facility in New England. Because of PSNH, New Hampshire as a whole is first in New England in toxic pollution.

The numbers tell a striking story.  In 2010, Merrimack Station released 2.8 million pounds of toxic chemicals to the environment, mostly in air pollution.  That’s an astonishing 85% of the 3.3 million total pounds of toxic pollution released in New Hampshire in 2010. When you add in PSNH’s coal-fired Schiller Station in Portsmouth and its gas and oil-fired Newington Station in Newington, PSNH was responsible for a total of 3 million pounds of toxic pollution in 2010, more than 90% of New Hampshire’s toxic pollution. 

PSNH’s pollution isn’t saving energy consumers anything – PSNH’s rates are among the highest in New England because of the escalating costs of maintaining PSNH’s old, inefficient power plants. And those rates are slated to steadily climb as PSNH customers – mostly residents and small businesses – watch large commercial and industrial customers reject the costs of PSNH’s above-market coal-fired power to buy from cost-effective, competitive suppliers. As a result, most New Hampshire residents are left with the raw deal of paying among the highest rates for the dirtiest power in New England.

The data is a fresh reminder of why CLF is fighting so hard to hold Merrimack Station accountable for violating the Clean Air Act. In November, CLF made the case in federal court that PSNH’s failure to obtain permits for changes at Merrimack Station has meant that PSNH has evaded requirements for state-of-the-art pollution limits that would reduce its emissions of a wide range of toxic and other pollutants.

It’s true that PSNH’s much-touted and hugely expensive scrubber project now coming online at Merrimack Station will ultimately reduce some types of toxic pollution to the air. But PSNH wants to increase its energy rates by 15% to pay for the scrubber. Other required pollution controls, including those imposed by important new federal rules, may lead to further costs. This will make PSNH’s power plants an even worse deal for New Hampshire ratepayers.

Merrimack Station also sends more carbon dioxide into the air than any other source in New Hampshire, and the scrubber won’t change that. Burning coal is a dirty way to generate power that imperils the climate, and it is time for New England to abandon it for cleaner alternatives that safeguard our health and environment and transition us toward a new energy system.

New Hampshire may never be willing to relinquish its leading spot on the presidential primary calendar. But living with New England’s largest source of toxic pollution despite its unacceptable costs – to ratepayers and the environment – is a distinction that New Hampshire should be doing everything in its power to lose.

Focus Areas

Climate Change


New Hampshire


About the CLF Blog

The views and opinions expressed on this blog do not necessarily represent the opinions or positions of Conservation Law Foundation, our boards, or our supporters.