Coal is Not Essential
Updated: Mar 2
by: Dylan Lucas - July 14, 2020
In 2019, coal was passed as the number three resource in the United States by renewable energy for the first time in 130 years due to its high cost compared to cheap solar and wind on the electric grid.1 April of 2020 was the first time coal has not been used in New England power generation, according to the 20 years of ISO-NE public data.2 The Merrimack station is the largest of only three coal power plants left in New England and has been cleared for operation until 2024 to the detriment of every person with an electric bill in New England who has to cover the $189 million dollars from 2018 until 2023 to keep this decrepit 60 year old plant running for the equivalent of 23 days per year.3,4
The COVID crisis has merely brought to light the trend sooner than later, with electricity prices crashing to $20 and $30 per megawatt hour, a price at which coal and oil and even natural gas are not affordable options.5 The sudden dip in usage caused oil prices to go negative, as drillers were paying cargo ships to hold natural gas and oil in tankers and park at sea because consumers no longer needed fossil fuels.6 While COVID is temporary, obsolete fossil fuels are not. Any additional spending on fossil fuel infrastructure is going to be a stranded asset for which the community will have to bail out bankrupt businesses. It is cheaper now to go 90% renewable by 2035 than it is to run legacy coal plants like the Merrimack station.7
Because the powerplant is run mostly during a cold snap, in December and January, or when a heatwave hits in July and August, we can eliminate the need for this coal plant with a few small changes to how we use energy. First, on purely consumer behavior by having residences using OhmConnect, we can create a virtual power plant by texting residents or even giving slight control of your thermostat to reduce energy demand when the coal plant might be called on. Many utilities already have programs to give credits on your electric bill by participating. Other alternatives are targeting electricity-heavy businesses that are looking to reduce their energy bills; they can use CPower or Stem to put battery storage to lower their utility bill payments as well as all ratepayers’ bills by targeting the expensive hours that coal is turned on.
Homeowners who can update their homes' energy efficiency can reduce their energy usage, eliminating the need for power plants altogether, expensive coal first (with help from ReVision Energy offering 100% electric air source heat pumps for heating and AC, water heating, electric vehicle charging, solar and back up battery generator replacements). Renters without access to roof or property can go 50% wind-powered at no cost, and even buy virtual solar panels to transfer their load to wind power plants and community solar farms instead of coal by using Arcadia.
The Merrimack station has existing grid infrastructure that would be excellent for energy storage. If we can convince Granite Shore Power, that their current coal asset is obsolete, we can help them replace it with energy storage, via hydrogen (freshwater river and rail road adjacent), or other battery technology that can utilize the existing 448MW infrastructure, like Encore did in Vermont with Highview Power. By utilizing this existing parcel in Bow, we could also increase tax revenue via PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes), from the battery energy storage system instead of paying $10M back taxes on a system deemed less valuable by the NH supreme court.8
About the author:
Dylan Lucas was born and raised in Bow, NH in the shadow of the Merrimack Station and returned there for 3 years after completing his studies in mechanical engineering at Northeastern University in Boston. For those 3 years he worked at ReVision Energy designing solar and battery systems until he moved to Nashua and started working for a Utility Scale solar and energy storage as a development engineer for the company Borrego Solar in Lowell, MA.