A Solar Farm Rises From the Ashes of a Coal-Burning Power Plant
The Mount Tom Power Station in Holyoke, Massachusetts—known as one of the worst polluters in New England—is on its way to a renewable rebirth.
The plant’s owners broke ground on a 5.76-megawatt solar farm in October on the site of the defunct coal-burning power station.
Activists had called for the closure of the plant for years, worried about the health effects burning coal was having on surrounding communities.
“This victory came after more than five decades spent inhaling soot and struggling to breathe and more than five years of organizing to retire and repurpose Mount Tom coal plant,” Claire Miller, lead community organizer for the Toxics Action Center, said in a statement.
More than 17,000 solar panels will be installed on the site, providing power to more than 1,000 homes.
The coal plant, which borders the Connecticut River, has been associated with the region’s perennially poor air quality since opening in 1960. Its owner, Paris-based Engie, decommissioned the plant in 2014 and plans to demolish it next year.
Engie, a $75 billion global energy company, said it shuttered the power plant because of competition from cheaper natural gas rather than as a result of pressure from environmentalists. Still, the company saw an opportunity to repurpose the site as a solar farm.
“For Engie, this project brings the concept of ‘Reduce, Recycle, Reuse’ to life,” Engie North America President Frank Demaille said in a statement. “It’s a unique opportunity to transform this property from a coal plant to a solar farm to serve the local community.”
The owners signed a 20-year agreement to sell the solar-generated electricity to Holyoke Gas & Electric. When the project comes online, the local utility—which provides power to 18,000 homes—will obtain more than 75 percent of its energy from renewable sources.
Now, environmental organizers are hoping Mount Tom will be a model for other communities.
“One of the advantages of a coal-fired power plant site is that it is already connected to the energy grid, so looking into whether a coal site can be used for renewable energy is something I hope every community looks to first,” said Miller.
For instance, the coal-fired Brayton power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts, is set to be shuttered next June. Houston-based Dynegy said it is weighing options for the site, including a proposal to convert the plant to a $1.3 billion, 400-megawatt natural gas power plant.
But environmental groups drafted a report outlining how the 234-acre waterfront site could host a 9-megawatt solar farm, a food waste digester, a large-scale battery storage facility, and a port to service offshore wind farms.
“This option would represent a ‘Clean Energy Hub’ scenario in which clean, renewable energy sources are brought together to provide reliable electricity, promote innovative new technologies, and reclaim the waterfront area from polluting large-scale industrial use,” the report stated.