Brayton Point Station, the largest coal plant in the northeast, is closing.
It won't be soon enough for some of the campaigners who have made the Massachusetts coal plant the focus of repeated climate protests in recent months and years, but Monday's announcement by the plant's owner, a New Jersey-based private equity firm, still arrived as both a welcome development and chance to celebrate what activists and residents hope to claim as a victory for the ascendent climate movement.
"It is no coincidence that the announcement of this plant closing is coming so shortly after our actions to defeat it," said the climate action group 350 Massachusetts in a statement. "The people making decisions to close this plant were painfully aware of our efforts to shut it down. Our promise to continue fighting it until it closed absolutely weighed in on their decision not to keep fighting to keep the plant going."
According local newspaper The Standard-Times:
Just five weeks after closing on the purchase of the Brayton Point Power Station, new owners Equipower, a subsidiary of investment partners Energy Capital Markets of Short Hills, N.J., disclosed Monday that they intend to shutter the plant as of June 2017.
The Conservation Law Foundation immediately declared this the “death knell” for coal-fired power plants in New England.
The decision was spurred by failure to agree with the region's power grid managing company, ISO New England, which cut one-third from Brayton Point's proposed pricing arrangement for future years.
Brayton Point Station is the largest of six coal-fired plants in New England, according to the Associated Press, and it was repeatedly target as the region's single largest producer of carbon pollution by area residents and activists across New England.
350Mass also congratulated local activists who have been fighting to close the Brayton Point Coal Plant for over a decade. Without the "leadership, courage, and vision" of those local citizens, the group said, "this victory would not be possible" and they vowed to continue working with them to "ensure a just transition for the local workers" who might be impacted by the plant's closure.
As Marla Marcum, an organizer with the Cambridge-based Better Future Project and 350Mass activist, tweeted:
— Marla Marcum (@MarlaMarcum) October 8, 2013
Throughout this year, 350Mass and their allies targeted the plant on several occasions. In one direct action, a small group of activists tried to block the path of a giant coal freighter with nothing but a reclaimed lobster boat. Following that, a larger contingent marched on the plant in July as part of a national week of action coordinated by the national group 350.org under the banner 'Summer Heat.' That event culminated in the arrest of forty-four people.
In both instances, the call from campaigners and protesters was to shut down the plant in order to make way for "cleaner" forms of energy and to end the destructive practice of mountaintop removal in Appalachia, the source of much of the coal consumed at Brayton Point.
“If Brayton Point can't make it economically, no coal plant can make it,” Jonathan Peress, director of the CLF's Clean Energy Program, told The Standard-Times. “This is the death knell for coal-fired power in new England.”
“This is the largest coal-fired power plant in New England with the lowest cost of production of any coal fired power plant,” he continued. “If they can't make it, coal is dead in New England."
Responding to the news, national campaign director for 350.org Phil Aroneanu, tweeted:
— philaroneanu (@philaroneanu) October 8, 2013
And 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben followed:
Kudos to New England activists! Brayton Pt. coal-fired power plant is on its way out! http://t.co/Y4a4kYptdT
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) October 8, 2013
Though welcomed, the news was not greeted as a total—or simplistic—victory by all environmentalists. Even among those who pushed hardest against Brayton Point in recent months, the news came as only a partial victory and one demanding a deeper look at the details of the Brayton Point closure and how the climate movement more broadly assesses its wins in the context of larger struggles against the fossil fuel industry.
"Governor [Deval] Patrick should close Brayton Point immediately, not on the timetable set by a group of hedge fund investors in New Jersey." said Chuck Collins, a member of 350Mass who helped organize protests at the plant this Spring and Summer, in an email to Common Dreams.
Collins, who is also a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank based in Washington, DC, echoed CFL's Peress by agreeing that,"Coal is dead in New England." If that's so, he added, "let's move rapidly to shift investment into conservation and renewable energy sources."
And Jay O'Hara, one of the local activists who parked the lobster boat in front of the coal freighter in May, acknowledged that what can seem like a win, might have a striking downside in this case. He tweeted:
— Jay O'Hara (@oharjo) October 8, 2013
And though journalist and local climate activist Wen Stephenson agreed in the Twitter-driven conversation that ensued that victories can help movement-building, he indicated the reality of climate change makes the urgency of larger, or more sweeping, victories imperative:
— Wen Stephenson (@wenstephenson) October 8, 2013
— Wen Stephenson (@wenstephenson) October 8, 2013