The future is in doubt for one of just two remaining coal powered electricity generating plants in Massachusetts. Municipal officials and environmentalists believe age and the current economics of burning coal will bring an end to the Mount Tom Power Plant in Holyoke. WAMC”s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
An advisory committee made up of Holyoke residents and appointed officials including members of the Conservation Commission and Redevelopment Authority will explore alternative uses for the Mount Tom Power Plant.
Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse says the power plant provides the city with both tax revenue and jobs.
The plant’s owner GDF-Suez said there are no plans to shut down the plant at this time. Spokesman Charles Burnham, in an email, said economic conditions, including the low price of natural gas have resulted in Mount Tom running less than it had in the past.
The Mount Tom plant, which opened in 1960, has a capacity to burn 1,200 tons of coal a day and generate enough electricity for a city twice the size of Holyoke. But because its power is relatively expensive the plant apparently operates only when demand for electricity peaks.
The plant is no longer the economic engine for Holyoke it once was. City Councilor Aaron Vega says the plant pays taxes based on its production.
Last fall, half of the 60 workers at the plant were laid off, according to IBEW local 455.
Vega said he hopes the plant can be replaced by something that will add to the city’s tax base
Advisory committee member Liz Budd said the group hopes to complete its work in about a year.
As part of its work, the advisory committee will look at what has happened to old coal plants across the country. It’s know that some have been converted to natural gas. It is unknown if the infrastructure exists to do that with Mount Tom.
Environmentalists have had their sights on the Mount Tom plant for decades. Drew Grande, an organizer with the Sierra Club encouraged the city of Holyoke to come up with a plan to re-use the site of the coal plant.
Despite its very sparse use in recent years, Grande claims research finds the Mount Tom Plant is still a major contributor to the unhealthy air quality that plagues most of the lower Pioneer Valley. Plant spokesman, Charles Burnham said Mount Tom remains below all existing emission limits established by both state and federal regulators. The plant installed $57 million in pollution control equipment in 2009.
The only other coal powered plant still operating in Massachusetts, according to the Sierra Club is the Brayton Point plant in Somerset on the South Coast.
Reporting from WAMC’s Pioneer Valley News Bureau on the campus of Western New England University, I’m Paul Tuthill