If it actually comes to pass, news that coal-fired Brayton Point Power Station will shut down arrives as a breath of fresh October air to the towns within range of its stacks.
The plant, described by the EPA as the most toxic polluter of air in New England, has been a blight on the region for decades and the South Coast will be well rid of it.
That ‘worst polluter’ status stuck to the power plant despite belated efforts by owners to scrub the emissions. Nobody here was spared the yellow pall that hung over Somerset on still mornings. When breezes rose from the north, that cloud — bearing mercury, arsenic, lead, ammonia and more, wafted south to Tiverton, Portsmouth, Westport and Little Compton. Easterly breezes sent it to Warren, Bristol and Barrington. And southwesterly sea breezes were fouled for those living north and east.
Although the scrubbers helped some, people used to swear that they could tell the wind direction by the depth of the soot layer on their cars in the morning.
The plant’s warm water discharge transformed much of Mount Hope Bay into a bathtub dead zone. Fishermen say conditions have improved some since construction of billion dollar cooling towers but still are not close to what once was. No word yet on the fate of those towering twin nuclear eyesores.
As was the case with an ill-conceived attempt to transform Mount Hope Bay into a private LNG terminal, public outcry clearly played a part in the owners’ decision to throw in the towel. No image in the fight has been more lasting than that of a small Newport fishing boat anchored smack in the path of an incoming coal ship despite the Coast Guard’s best efforts to evict it.
While the closure is certainly hard on the 250 people who work there, less bothersome are claims that regional electric bills will soar without Brayton Point’s coal power. With natural gas abundant and relatively inexpensive, coal now contributes only about 3 percent to the New England power mix — indeed competitive pricing was perhaps the biggest reason for Monday’s announcement.
Brayton Point is a relic of an era when people didn’t (or pretended not to) know better than to pump sulfur and soot into the sky.
It is way past time for Southeastern New England to move on.