Conservation Law Foundation and Toxics Action Center Applaud Decision to Discard Plans to Gasify Coal and Construction and Demolition Debris at Plant Site
BOSTON, MA February 23, 2011 – Massachusetts moved one step closer to a coal-free future this week as NRG Energy, Inc., owner of Somerset Station, a coal and oil burning power plant located in Somerset, announced that it will shut the plant down permanently, effective immediately. The 85-year-old plant shut down in January 2010, pending an appeal brought by Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and Somerset residents to its plans to repower the plant using an experimental technology known as plasma gasification. In early February, NRG asked the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MA DEP) to withdraw approvals for its plans, saying the company had decided not to pursue its plasma gasification project that would have used fuels including coal, construction and demolition debris and woody biomass. MA DEP granted the request on February 18.
Shanna Cleveland, staff attorney at CLF, said, “The demise of Somerset Station is proof positive that these old, polluting coal plants are no longer viable. As demonstrated here, the economics do not support investing in retrofitting these obsolete plants to continue to burn dirty coal, when cleaner, more efficient and renewable sources of energy are on the rise. NRG’s pragmatic business decision is a public health and environmental victory for Somerset residents and a sign of things to come in New England’s energy future.”
Somerset resident Pauline Rodrigues said, “The residents of Somerset have been breathing easier since Somerset Station ceased spewing toxic air pollution over our community last January. Today, we can all breathe a deep, clean sigh of relief knowing that Somerset Station will not be coming back.”
Meredith Small, executive director, Toxics Action Center, said, “We are thrilled that this community’s tenacious efforts to protect its residents from ongoing harmful pollution were rewarded with this remarkable outcome.”
Tenacious Legal Advocacy Leads to Shut Down
Since 2007, CLF, in conjunction with Toxics Action Center and Somerset residents, has led a persistent fight to stop toxic air pollution from Somerset Station from harming an already overburdened community. In 2008, CLF filed an appeal in Massachusetts Superior Court to overturn permits issued by the MA DEP approving NRG’s plans to repower the plant using an experimental technology called plasma gasification. CLF maintained that the permits were granted without sufficient environmental review and that the plant’s plans to gasify pulverized coal, biomass and construction and demolition debris posed unknown health and environmental threats to the community. In a move foreshadowing today’s outcome, in November 2009, NRG announced that it would shut down Somerset Station in January, 2010, consistent with the facility’s old permit and nine months before the challenged new permits required the plant to shut down or repower with cleaner emissions. The plant has not operated since January 2, 2010.
Somerset Station was one of four coal-burning power plants still operating in Massachusetts, including Brayton Point Power Station, also in Somerset, Mt. Tom Generating Station in Holyoke and Salem Harbor Station in Salem. According to the Clean Air Task Force report, “The Toll from Coal,” Somerset Station was responsible for 6 premature deaths, 11 heart attacks and 97 asthma attacks annually. Massachusetts spends over $200 million each year to import coal from Colombia and Indonesia.
Background on Coal-Free New England
CLF is working towards a coal-free New England by 2020. For more than 20 years, CLF has held the region’s coal-fired power plants accountable for violations of clean air and water laws, while winning tougher regulations to protect the environment and public health. CLF filed the appeals of state permits that resulted in the 2010 shutdown of Somerset Station, in Somerset, Massachusetts, and is currently in litigation with Salem Harbor Station in Salem, Massachusetts. With its tenacious legal advocacy, policy initiatives and regulatory expertise, CLF is applying pressure in all the right places to rid New England of old, dirty coal plants, keep the lights on at reasonable cost, and make way for clean renewable energy to power our region.
The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) protects New England’s environment for the benefit of all people. Using the law, science and the market, CLF creates solutions that preserve natural resources, build healthy communities, and sustain a vibrant economy region-wide. Founded in 1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization with offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.
Toxics Action Center is a Massachusetts nonprofit that works side by side with neighborhood groups to clean up and prevent toxic pollution. The organization has helped over 650 communities since 1987.
 Clean Air Task Force, The Toll from Coal, September 2010: http://www.catf.us/resources/publications/files/The_Toll_from_Coal.pdf