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October 09. 2013 8:21PM

Some business owners support shuttering of Merrimack station

CONCORD — About 50 Concord area small-business owners are backing the efforts of several environmental groups to shut down Merrimack Station, Public Service of New Hampshire’s coal-burning power plant in Bow.

At a news conference Wednesday, one business owner said the power plant continues to pollute the air while driving up costs for customers, which hurts the local economy.

The two groups, Citizens for Clean and Fair Power and Toxics Action Center held a similar event in Portsmouth targeting PSNH’s Schiller Station on Wednesday.

At the Concord conference, Ian Blackman, owner of Ian Blackman Barn Restoration, called Merrimack Station “a train wreck waiting to happen.”

He said the cost of electricity from the plant has driven many customers away from PSNH, and federal environmental regulations the plant will have to meet in the future will further drive up rates.

“The bottom line is that Merrimack Station isn’t the economic contributor or energy supplier it used to be,” Blackman said, “but still continues to pollute our air and water, while burdening our local economy.”

He said the company built a scrubber at Merrimack Station to removed mercury from emissions, and that further increased the price of electricity.

“Schiller Station in Portsmouth and Merrimack Station in Bow comply with all state and federal clean air regulations. Both plants are also large contributors to the local community, directly employing hundreds of workers and indirectly benefiting many more,” said PSNH spokesman Martin Murray. “They are also the largest or among the largest sources of local tax revenue in each community. Any call for retirement of either facility is extremely short-sighted.”

The groups hope to convince Gov. Maggie Hassan and state lawmakers to “plan for the responsible retirement of Merrimack Station with support for municipal revenues, workers and property redevelopment,” said Naomi Leary, community organizer for Toxics Action Center. “The time for coal is over. Pull off the Band-Aid and face the music.”

The Legislative Electric Utility Oversight Committee is reviewing what legislation to introduce in the 2014 session that would require PSNH to sell its fossil-fueled generating facilities.

The Public Utilities Commission staff issued a report earlier this year noting the fossil fuel plants are driving up costs for PSNH power customers and driving many to alternative suppliers.

The commission is also in the midst of deciding how much of the $422 million cost of the Merrimack Station scrubber its customers should have to pay.

PSNH said lawmakers required the scrubber be built so the company should be able to recover all of the costs. It recently asked the state Supreme Court to rule on the issue, although the PUC has yet to decide.

The two groups said they hope to contact more local businesses and citizens to make people aware of the problem with Merrimack Station. They plan to hold a forum in November.

Most of the nearly 50 businesses that signed the petition in favor of retiring Merrimack Station are in Concord, which is supplied by Unitil, not PSNH.

Zack Deutsch-Gross of Citizens for Clean and Fair Power said the businesses believe the high cost of power from PSNH hurts customers, which in turn hurts their businesses.

“Merrimack Station has been leeching and bleeding the local economy for years,” he said.

Murray said, “I’m not aware of what language was used in any petitions that a business might have signed in support of this short-sighted effort to close facilities which are complying with all regulations and providing a critical public service — but, we are certainly happy to talk directly to any neighbors and provide accurate information about our power plants.”

grayno@unionleader.com


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