Today, the Sierra Club and a growing coalition of over 100 allies announced the retirement of the nation’s 150th coal plant. This is a huge milestone in the ongoing campaign to move the country beyond coal by 2030.
Meet retiring coal plant #150: Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Massachusetts. It’s a massive 1,500 megawatt plant that is the largest remaining coal plant in New England, and it’s one of the biggest polluters in the state. We can breathe easier knowing that yet another dirty coal plant will retire its massive air pollution.
According to the Clean Air Task Force, retiring these 150 coal plants will help to save 4,000 lives, prevent 6,200 heart attacks and prevent 66,300 asthma attacks every year. Those are parents who won’t have to watch their children suffer an asthma attack and miss school. Those are kids who won’t have to see their parents or grandparents suffer heart or breathing problems. Retiring these plants will also avoid $1.9 billion in health costs.
I’m especially proud of and inspired by the many volunteers who worked so long to fight this coal plant and stop it from fouling their community’s air and water. The Sierra Club had long been focusing on this plant with a coalition of allies, including the Coalition for Clean Air South Coast, Toxics Action Center, Clean Water Action, and the Conservation Law Foundation. That campaign included a relentless effort to focus on the pollution from this massive plant, and to push hard for wind, solar, and energy efficiency to replace it.
These partner organizations and state leaders are another example of how town by town, neighborhood by neighborhood, we are moving beyond coal. As Somerset resident Camilo Viveiros put it:
“Pollution from this plant put kids’ health at risk at more than 80 schools and day care centers across both Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but at the same time, our states are becoming the hub of the quickly growing offshore wind industry. Transitioning away from dirty coal and towards renewable energy sources including offshore wind and solar power will create jobs, grow our regional economy and provide our families and businesses with safer, more reliable power for the future.”
Now, we can all celebrate this step in the right direction for public and environmental health. Check out this inspiring new video from Nico Vega, a new acoustic rendition of their amazing “Protest Song” that they recorded for Beyond Coal, which we’re releasing today to spread the word and mark the moment.
“Our coalition of environmental, conservation, public health and civil rights groups has achieved a milestone that few thought possible,” says my colleague Verena Owen, a veteran volunteer leader who co-leads the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.
“In 2010, analysts expected about 30,000 megawatts of coal would retire over the next decade. But in less than three years the campaign has nearly doubled these predictions, securing the retirement of more than 60,000 megawatts, more than one quarter of all coal plants in the country.”
Verena’s right: Through grassroots activism and the power of passionate Americans across the country, we are telling the dirty, outdated and deadly coal industry that enough is enough.
This milestone comes only a year-and-a-half after we hit the 100th retirement, the notorious Crawford coal plant in Chicago. The momentum continues to increase as Americans see that coal is fading as a part of the nation’s energy mix.
Now we must ensure that the transition from coal to clean energy happens in a way that protects workers and communities. We’ve seen it happen before – from the Pacific Northwest to the Tennessee Valley. We call on Brayton Point’s owners, Energy Capital Partners, to structure the retirement of this plant in a way that takes care of the workers and the community. We also call on Governor Deval Patrick and the legislature to pass the Clean Energy Commonwealth Bill (HB 2935), which would create a community empowerment fund to assist communities and workers by protecting the local tax base and providing worker assistance and retraining opportunities when a coal plant retires.
Nationwide the coal industry is facing mounting challenges – rising coal costs, falling clean energy prices, a motivated grassroots coalition of organizers working to move the nation off coal, and the growing national demand to tackle climate-disrupting carbon pollution from coal plants. As we learned in the latest report from the world’s climate scientists, released just two weeks ago, our window to turn the corner on climate disruption is closing fast. But we still have a chance.
Here’s the really good news – as these coal plants retire, we’re seeing more and more clean energy brought online. Today, the United States has more than 60,000 megawatts of installed wind capacity, enough to power the equivalent of 15 million American homes.
Utilities and energy companies are realizing that coal is an increasingly bad investment – that was definitely the case with Brayton Point, which had just been purchased by new owners who quickly determined that keeping the plant running didn’t make economic sense. And as they connect those dots, they are transitioning their resources to cleaner, renewable sources of energy like wind and solar. In fact, the state of Texas produces so much wind energy, that if Texas were a country, it would be the world’s sixth ranking wind energy producer. Meanwhile, states across the country are already being powered by renewable energy. In 2012, Iowa and South Dakota received more than 20 percent of their energy from wind, and nine states produced more than 10 percent of their electricity from wind energy.
What’s more, this month the U.S. joined three other countries with more than 10,000 megawatts of installed solar capacity. This growth in clean energy has helped to create more jobs across the country. Clean energy industries now employ nearly 200,000 Americans.
This is an important milestone for public health and the planet, so let’s take a moment to take it in. Then it’s time to get back to work building a clean energy economy that will create jobs and protect our health.