Why Salem Harbor Power — or any methane-powered electricity — is a big mistake

Dan Dolan of the Massachusetts Power Generators association wrote an op-ed lauding the Salem Harbor Power Station, an explosive methane-powered monstrosity located just 16 feet above sea level, and built with the implicit assumption sea level rise in Salem will be no higher than 1.25 feet by 2057.

I replied in a comment which has yet to be “approved” for publication by Salem News, now 3 hours after it was made.


“…some of the cleanest, lowest-carbon producing power plants in the nation.” Wind farms are far cleaner and, in the end, much cheaper. So are utility scale solar plants. The difference is that to achieve the scale Massachusetts needs means paying more up front, but, in the end, the costs are well below natural gas plants.

Natural gas is not clean. It’s not granola. It’s explosive methane, and it is packaged with benzene, a strong carcinogen. Salem Power will demand dangerous pipelines rip up communities and their water supplies (such as Walpole’s), their dedicated conservation forests, and subjects Massachusetts to extreme volatility. Wind, and solar, and hydropower are not volatile in price. I cannot defend long power lines for Quebec hydro. I don’t see them as necessary because we have all the resources we need right here, along with highly effective energy efficiency measures. (See why at https://hypergeometric.wordpress.com/2015/10/20/what-it-takes-to-power-a-light-bulb-and-sankey-diagrams/).

Salem Power is a continuation of a myth, accompanied by pictures of little kids and teddy bears, that “Natural gas is clean and safe”. It isn’t. From 1996 through 2015 according to federal PHMSA records, there have been 65 significant incidents involving natural gas just in New England including 10 fatalities, and 49 injuries with a property damage cost of $23 million.

On top of all else there is climate disruption, including sea level rise and bigger storms. The footprint estimate of the Salem Plant (see http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dpu/siting/efsb-12-2-footprint-final-decision.pdf) includings a sea level rise estimate of 1.25 feet for 40 years. What if this estimate, which is a statistical one, turns out to be low? The planned elevation of the planned leaves little margin for error. Indeed recent projections from the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines (Young, PIlkey, Duke University, http://e360.yale.edu/feature/how_high_will_seas_rise_get_ready_for_seven_feet/2230/) indicates 7 feet by 2100. Even if that’s back loaded, 2-3 feet by 2050 are possible. If Salem Power is commissioned in 2020, the 40 year projection is 2060. Moreover, are the operators, with their insistence that Salem Power and methane electricity is a “bridge to a zero carbon future”, planning to shut the plant down in 2060? What’s their depreciation profile look like? And if they are going to risk flooding their plant, what’s going to happen to its supposed reliable power then?

Natural gas is a bridge to nowhere. It’s time Massachusetts wised up like New York State is doing (see http://www.utilitydive.com/news/new-york-psc-enacts-new-revenue-models-for-utilities-in-rev-proceeding/419596/ and the great video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUm91OTuvLg) and found a bridge to somewhere.

New York’s plans are now much more than wishful thinking.

About hypergeometric

See http://www.linkedin.com/in/deepdevelopment/ and http://667-per-cm.net
This entry was posted in adaptation, Anthropocene, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, BNEF, bridge to nowhere, bridge to somewhere, Carbon Worshipers, citizenship, clean disruption, climate, climate change, climate disruption, coastal communities, decentralized electric power generation, decentralized energy, demand-side solutions, denial, distributed generation, economics, efficiency, electricity, electricity markets, energy, energy reduction, energy utilities, environment, fossil fuel divestment, fossil fuels, fracking, gas pipeline leaks, global warming, grid defection, Hermann Scheer, Hyper Anthropocene, ignorance, leaving fossil fuels in the ground, local generation, methane, natural gas, pipelines, public utility commissions, PUCs, rate of return regulation, regulatory capture, Salem, Sankey diagram, solar domination, solar energy, solar power, SolarPV.tv, stranded assets, the energy of the people, the green century, the problem of evil, the right to be and act stupid, the tragedy of our present civilization, the value of financial assets, Tony Seba, utility company death spiral, waves, wind energy, wind power, zero carbon. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why Salem Harbor Power — or any methane-powered electricity — is a big mistake

  1. Alden Richards says:

    This is a great turn around about how our electricity works today. This will create and everlasting energy resources.

  2. Pingback: Natural gas: The Zaphod Beeblebrox of energy | Hypergeometric

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