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Last Gasp for Massachusetts Coal Industry

June 10, 2014

On Monday June 2nd, the 28 employees at the Mount Tom Power Plant were notified that the plant would be closing in October.  Just years after the receiving a $55 million upgrade, the Mount Tom Power Plant, which has been in operation since 1960 will close its doors this fall.  GDF Suez Energy North America owns the Mount Tom plant and its parent company, the French multinational utility giant GDF Suez S.A., is largely considered to be the world’s largest utility.  The plant was old, only produced 146 megawatts of electricity, and as GDF Suez spokeswoman Carol Churchill stated, “the Holyoke plant could no longer compete with cheaper natural gas.”  She also confirmed that GDF Suez is considering converting the plant to produce electricity from solar energy.

The Mount Tom Power Plant closing holds significant relevance for the Northeast energy market, especially Massachusetts.  The Mount Tom Power Plant was one of the last three coal-fired power plants in Massachusetts.  The Mount Tom closing announcement came just days after the closing of a larger, 720 megawatt coal facility outside Boston and Massachusetts’ final operational coal-fired plant, the Brayton Power Plant in Somerset, is set to be closed by the end of 2017.  At this point, the Bay State will no longer use coal to generate electricity anymore.

Massachusetts’ shift away from coal provides a future preview at what the country’s power portfolio may look like in the future.  Former coal facilities have been converted to natural gas and even solar plants.  This trend coupled with the increased availability of cheaper natural gas are dominating factors that will influence the state of the energy markets.  Massachusetts’ energy plan falls very much in the line with the groundbreaking climate change policy that the Obama administration announced last week.  Under the new proposed rule, power plants would be forced to cut their carbon emissions 30% from 2005 levels by 2030.  The Bay State is part of a coalition of nine states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap and trade program that includes New York, Delaware, Maryland, and all of the New England states.  According to an analysis done by the Georgetown Climate Center, coal generation dropped by 65% in RGGI states between 2005 and 2012 whilst natural gas shot up by 56% during this period.  These trends reflect not only the projections and goals that the EPA would like to achieve by 2030 but also confirm the rising prevalence of natural gas and the end of an era for coal.