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NH State Senate Should Review Clean Alternatives to Merrimack Station

Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSNH), serving about 75 percent of the state’s ratepayers, owns and operates the 433 megawatt Merrimack Station coal-fired generating plant in Bow, New Hampshire. This plant is the state’s single largest point source of global warming pollution, sulfur dioxide (SOx), nitrogen oxide (NOx), and mercury. It releases about 3.7 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2)—the main contributor to global warming—each year. The plant is 40 years old and is almost fully paid off by ratepayers. State senator Harold Janeway recently introduced a bill that would require the state Public Utilities Commission to examine alternatives to rebuilding and operating this plant.

In 2006, the New Hampshire legislature passed a bill requiring PSNH to install a scrubber no later than 2013 to reduce the plant’s current mercury emissions. These emissions have contributed to some downwind lakes being among the most contaminated in the nation. PSNH announced in August, 2008, that the cost of the scrubber had increased from the $250 million it projected during legislative debate on the matter to $457 million.

However, even the more expensive scrubber will not bring the plant into compliance with current mercury, clean water, and likely CO2 emission standards. Lacking the required cooling towers, the plant now dumps hot water directly into the Merrimack River, which can damage sensitive organisms and ecosystems. A preliminary estimate found that the total cost of reconstructing and operating the plant in compliance with the law would range from $1.3 to $2.9 billion.

The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission ruled on November 12, 2008, that the scrubber law leaves it no choice but to allow construction and operation to go forward, regardless of cost to ratepayers. Stonyfield Farm, DEKA, Staples, and several other business ratepayers will appeal this ruling to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, but it is unclear what chances the litigation has. View litigation documents here.

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