Updated: Jul 31, 2020
by: Barbara Peterson - September 2019
Coal emits more greenhouse gases than any other fuel to produce electricity. The Merrimack Station in Bow, New Hampshire, for example, during one hour of operation has the carbon footprint equivalent to an average American for 26 years of their life. At 440-megawatts, it is one of the largest coal plants in New England, second only in size to the 448-megawatt station in Bridgeport, Connecticut, which is due to shut down by 2021. Taking immediate steps toward a renewable future, the Climate Disobedience Center is leading a large coalition of groups and individuals in a strategic nonviolent direct action campaign to shut the Bow plant down.
Other than the two 50-megawatt coal plants in Portsmouth, the Merrimack Station is the only existing coal station in New Hampshire. Granite Shore Power owns all the NH coal stations, having bought them last year from Eversource. The Merrimack Station stays open primarily because of hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies, or “capacity payments,” that come from New England taxpayers. These tax dollars fund the Station to sit dormant for most of the year but stand prepared to operate during the coldest and hottest days. While advocates of the plant claim this is necessary to provide energy during peak times, critics point out that spending so much money on outdated and largely unused energy sources prevent greener options from being developed and used, options that are not only renewable and clean but more cost efficient. Even gas-fired plants produce electricity at far cheaper rates per kilowatt than coal plants, which is why the Merrimack Station is not operational for most of the year.
An independent, nonprofit corporation, ISO-New England (ISO-NE), manages the markets for buyers of electricity for all of New England. They will use the people’s tax dollars to pay the Merrimack Station $188 million to stay open and operate in emergency peak times only through 2023. The Station receives this money in addition to its earnings for the electricity they produce. This is money that could be spent to fund more sustainable, affordable energy sources. According to Forbes, keeping coal plants open is often more expensive than building new wind turbines and solar sites. Activists claim that it is time to end our dependence on coal and to stop paying the Bow plant millions of dollars just to be on call.
Jay O’Hara, founding member of the Climate Disobedience Center, explained how he hoped things would unfold after he and fellow climate activist Ken Ward ran a successful campaign in the Lobster Boat blockade of Brayton Point in 2013. He and Ward sat in a lobster boat called the “Henry David T” for an entire day blocking a ship carrying 40,000 tons of coal. This action sparked a massive environmental direct action movement against the Brayton Point power plant, the largest coal-burning station in New England. O’Hara stated, “I assumed that after we shut down Brayton Point, that the rest of the coal plants were just going to fold of their own weight. But these subsidies keep them alive, and it's clear now that we're going to have to do this ourselves. And it's also clear the way that our politicians are going that we're going to have to build a stronger movement than we anticipated in order to create the change that we need beyond this coal plant, shutting down existing gas infrastructure and halting any new construction."
A coalition of activists, led by Climate Disobedience Center (CDC) and 350-New Hampshire (350NH), has been engaging in several actions aimed to shut the Bow plant down. Much of the information-gathering on the plant was done by CDC who chose Merrimack Station as its immediate target in their larger vision of a future free from fossil fuels. To prepare activists for civil disobedience, CDC members Tim DeChristopher, Marla Marcum, Jay O’Hara, and Emma Schoenberg laid out a strategic signal action. The purpose of signal actions is to send out messages to the public, the government, and the targeted power plant that a larger action will soon follow. Additionally, these actions help train activists and show them that direct action is both possible and worth doing.
The signal action took place August 17, 2019 where over a dozen people participated. While some activists served in vital supportive roles (filming, making phone calls if anyone was arrested, driving, providing supplies, etc.), others engaged in civil disobedience by walking onto the Merrimack Station site and liberating buckets of coal. Every detail of the action was planned by CDC members and explained in a six-hour workshop held a week earlier, on August 10. Further details were explained during a two-hour debriefing session the morning of the action. Several people were dropped off at the plant, took 5-gallon white buckets and a shovel onto the site, and walked to the coal piles. Each person then shoveled coal into their buckets and walked out, placing the bucket into a pickup truck which was driven three days later to the State House in Concord. A handful of activists, led by Tim DeChristopher, dumped several buckets of the coal onto a tarp in front of the Capital building where they held a press conference explaining the necessity of their actions.
The larger event that the signal action presaged will occur on September 28, 2019. Lila Kohrman-Glaser of 350NH is working directly with CDC to coordinate New Hampshire and other New England activists to join this mass protest. Over a hundred have already signed up on the No Coal No Gas website (www.nocoalnogas.org), and taken the pledge, which states: “I acknowledge that it is time to move beyond a comfortable response to the climate crisis. This means, I am prepared to intervene to make sure that no more coal is burned at Bow, and to take the associated risk. By pledging, I commit to approach taking action with humility, generosity and fierce determination, to be part of an affinity group for action, to abide by the action agreements of the coalition, and to participate in the required nonviolent direct action training.” The time for fence-sitting is over; if we want to save our futures, activists claim, the people must act now. Nonviolent direct action is necessary in ending our dependence on coal, the burning of which is destroying our planet.
Merrimack Station is being sued by the Conservation Law Foundation and the Sierra Club of New Hampshire for violating the Clean Water Act standards for the waste heat pollution that it is dumping into the Merrimack River. If the suit is successful, the Station will have to pay for prohibitively expensive cooling systems, making the coal plant economically impractical. The suit was filed in March 2019, and litigation will be slow. Mass protests and nonviolent direct action will provide the needed extra pressure to this lengthy legal process to successfully shut down the plant. Those who cannot attend the September 28th event are encouraged to contact Granite Shore Power and ask them to either clean up their waste or move completely to an alternate source of generating electricity. People can contact them using the Granite Shore Power website listed below.
Activists seeking to shut down the plant believe they are engaging in morally justified actions. Clean air and water are human rights; no person should be forced to live in communities where their safety is jeopardized by the burning of coal when alternative sources are available. Mary Beth Raven said, “I have asthma. Burning coal for electricity exacerbates my asthma. In fact, asthma rates in NH have been rising. (source: https://www.nhpr.org/post/asthma-rates-increase#stream/0.) Here in New Hampshire, we should not have to rely on coal for electricity. There are other, renewable sources if we just invest in them, sources such as offshore wind, on-shore wind, and solar, none of which make it harder for me to breathe. What's the price of clean air? How much should it cost to simply breathe? It's time to shut down the Merrimack generating facility in Bow.”
Many activists on September 28th will participate in a lawful protest, calling for the closure of Merrimack Station. Some are also willing, if necessary, to risk arrest if law enforcement tries to stop their demands for clean water and air. “I intend to risk arrest at the Bow Coal Plant because the fossil fuel industry and their investors and lobbyists have left me no choice. Even in the face of economic and environmental data that demonstrate an approaching collapse, our leaders and corporations continue to pretend that it's all ‘Business As Usual.’ Although I have and will continue to work for a clean energy future, time is growing short and desperate action is called for, and as a mother, grandmother, and veteran, I hear it calling to me,” claimed Patricia A. Martin of Rindge, NH.
According to the No Coal No Gas website, the September 28th event is only the first mass action in a larger nonviolent movement designed to shift us away from coal and gas and transition to renewable, green energy alternatives. On the website, the CDC claims that they will continue to build their movement that will engage in strategic nonviolent action designed to “end our addiction to fracked gas, and ensure the Granite Bridge pipeline is never built.” Climate activists are calling for the Bow plant to close, but they also claim that the problem is much bigger. The larger goal is to end U.S. reliance on all fossil fuels. Activist Rebecca Beaulieu said, “I watched a coal plant in my hometown close down just to be replaced with a fracked methane gas plant. We cannot keep letting the fossil fuel companies win if we want our air to be clean and our communities to be healthy. I want to see a win for the community in Bow, which means closing this plant that is polluting their air and water.”
Trainings for the September 28th direct action event will occur in various locations around New England. The two that are locked down thus far are on Saturday, September 21st in Portsmouth, NH at the Levenson Room, Portsmouth Public Library from 10:00am – 4:00pm, and Sunday, September 22nd in Bow, NH at the Baker Free Library from 10:00am – 4:00pm. (See below for event links, and check 350NH facebook page for updates on more locations for trainings.) Trainings at many of these locations will provide childcare and will be led by members of the CDC, a group that is both highly educated and experienced in nonviolent direct action. They recognize the importance of building an entire, planned-out campaign with trained activists, a campaign that is part of a larger movement with strategically sequenced actions and a clear vision. The trainings as well as the September 28th event will play vital roles in the campaign to shut down Merrimack Station, which is an important part of realizing the vision to end our deadly dependence on fossil fuels. Workers deserve jobs with long-term futures, and all people deserve to live in communities with clean, safe water, air, and soil.
350NH and CDC are working with a growing coalition of groups and individuals to build a movement that will take on the climate crisis now, build solidarity with workers to help them transition to more secure and lasting jobs, and end our reliance on fossil fuels. It’s time for direct action, and we the people can no longer wait for corporations and legislators to do what is needed to protect our present and future for life on earth.
Supporting No Coal No Gas Action
To support this action, visit the No Coal No Gas website to sign up to participate.
No Coal No Gas Website: https://www.nocoalnogas.org
Support this action by donating to CDC.
Climate Disobedience Website: http://www.climatedisobedience.org
Support this action by donating to 350NH.
350 New Hampshire Website: https://350nh.org
Contact Granite Shore Power to ask them to convert to clean energy.
Members, Affiliations, and Contact Information
Some of the groups supporting this action are:
Climate Disobedience Center
New Hampshire Youth Movement
Nonviolent Citizen Action
Party for Socialism and Liberation
Rights & Democracy NH
The Resistance Seacoast
Important Contact Links:
No Coal No Gas September 28 Action Video: https://www.facebook.com/350NHACTION/videos/705470673261013/UzpfSTMyMTM5MzA1NDkyMzk3OTo4MjY0NTgwNTEwODQxNDE/
Portsmouth Nonviolent Direct Action Training: https://www.facebook.com/events/717936861980336/
Bow Nonviolent Direct Action Training : https://www.facebook.com/events/698876237253293/
Climate Disobedience Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ClimateDisobedience/
350 New Hampshire Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/350NH/
1) Silvio Marcacci, Forbes: Dec 18, 2017 – 8:00am. https://www.forbes.com/sites/energyinnovation/2017/12/18/utilities-closed-dozens-of-coal-plants-in-2017-here-are-the-6-most-important/#4f4b679e5aca