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Activists host ‘retirement party’ for New England’s last running coal plant, but its future is uncertain

At least 60 people showed up to a protest Sunday urging the retirement of New England’s last running coal plant, the Merrimack Station in Bow.

The gathering was complete with cake and dancing, according to organizer Kendra Ford.

“Because it's long overdue for that coal plant to retire, we had a retirement party to live into the reality that it is going to retire,” she said.

Operators at the Merrimack Station have not indicated whether they plan to retire the plant. NHPR reached out to plant officials seeking comment but did not receive an immediate response.

Earlier this year, the plant’s coal operations failed to clear an annual auction to pay electricity generators for their ability to provide power in the future. It did receive payments during last year’s auction, which are meant to sustain it through 2026.

Merrimack Station runs as a “peaker” plant, only burning coal for power when there is high demand on the electricity grid, like on very hot or very cold days.

But Ford says the region’s grid operator, ISO-New England, is under increasing pressure to help speed the transition to renewable energy, which could put pressure on the plant to retire, or turn into a renewable generating resource.

Advocates have been calling on the plant to shut down for years.

Ford says it’s important for the plant to shut down because its emissions contribute to climate change, and it harms air and water quality.

“There's just layers and layers of reasons that burning coal in 2023 is just an outrageous thing to do, because we know how bad it is for all of us,” she said.

The energy supply sector is responsible for about 35% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Burning coal emits more carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels like natural gas or oil.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.

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