After dumping coal in front of N.H. Statehouse, protesters vow to shut power plant

  • Protesters left some coal in front of the State House on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019. David Brooks Monitor staff

  • Quincy Abramson, a UNH graduate who grew up in Bow, talks about climate action alongside buckets of coal stolen from Merrimack Station on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. David Brooks Monitor staff

  • A climate activist removes coal from a burn pile at Merrimack Station in Bow on Saturday.

Concord Monitor
Published: 8/20/2019 10:15:24 PM
Modified: 8/20/2019 10:15:16 PM

CONCORD — Protesters who say they stole 500 pounds of coal from alongside the Merrimack Station power plant in Bow dumped some of it in front of the Statehouse on Tuesday to mark the start of what they said was a monthlong push to “shut down” the plant.

“We’re going to remove the fuel for the fire, even if we have to do it bucket by bucket,” said Emma Schoenberg of the Climate Disobedience Center, one of a half-dozen activists who were part of Tuesday’s action.

At the end of a short press conference, the group poured six buckets of coal onto a tarp and left the plaza.

They face fines for protesting without a permit and “illegal dumping,” said Auxiliary Trooper S.M. Puckett, who came out as the group was leaving and told them to clean it up.

“It will cost the state money to clean it up. It’s disrespectful to the State House,” Puckett said after the protesters had left.

The group said they scooped up “at least 500 pounds” of coal from alongside the plant in Bow, N.H., which burns it to create electricity. The fuel was carried there by trains that travel up the PanAm Railways tracks along the Merrimack River.

“We just walked up and took it. It has no fences,” said Tim DeChristopher, co-founder of the Climate Disobedience Center, of stealing the coal.

He and other activists at the Statehouse event, most of whom appeared to be in their 20s, argued that trespassing was justified because the accelerating pace of climate change shows that conventional politics and regulation is not working.

“We want to give my generation a livable future,” said Lila Korman Glaser of 350 New Hampshire Action. “As long as we are burning coal, we are not winning change fast enough.”

Among those at Tuesday’s rally was Quincy Abramson, 22, a 2019 UNH graduate who grew up in Bow.

She said her only encounter with Merrimack Station, which has been a part of Bow for a half-century, was a school field trip that she had largely forgotten about.

“We went there in sixth grade. I got to take home a piece of coal,” she said.

Despite that, however, she said the plant operates out of sight and out of mind for many town residents.

“I really did not know about it, not until this coalition brought it to my attention,” she said. “If I’m not aware, then a lot of people aren’t aware — it’s not like something you passed every day.”

She argued that disobedience was necessary because the accelerating climate crisis shows that traditional politics and regulation is not acting fast enough.

The Climate Disobedience Center and 350 New Hampshire Action say they are targeting the 440-megawatt Merrimack Station because it will soon be the largest coal-fired plant in New England. The 485-megawatt Bridgeport Harbor Station in Connecticut plans to close by 2021. The only other coal-fired plants in the region are two 50-megawatt units in Portsmouth.

All the New Hampshire plants are owned by Granite Shore Power, which bought them from Eversource last year. Merrimack Station does not regularly produce electricity because power from other places, particularly gas-fired plants, is much cheaper per kilowatt. In 2018, it produced less than 13% of its theoretical output, according to a New Hampshire Business Review report.

It stays open in large part because of what are known as capacity payments — money collected from New England ratepayers given to power plants in return for guaranteed operation during high-need times, such as hot summer afternoons or winter cold snaps when natural gas is diverted from power plants to be used in heating. The station is set to receive $188 million in capacity payments through 2023. ISO-New England, operator of the six-state power grid, says capacity payments are necessary to keep enough power plants open so we won’t face brownouts. Critics call them subsidies that block alternatives, such as more wind and solar power.

Coal emits the most greenhouse gases of all fuels used to make electricity. Ending its use in power production has been a goal of climate activists for years.

The New Hampshire groups say they will be part of a Global Climate Strike from Sept. 20 to 27, which will feature a number of events around the world urging governments to cope with the climate crisis, culminating in as-yet-unspecified moves to “close down” the plant.

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