The Brayton Point coal-fired generating station was one of the dirtiest polluters in New England for decades. Situated on the shores of Mount Hope Bay near Fall River, Massachusetts, it was responsible for 106 premature deaths annually, 1,140 emergency room visits each year, 28,900 asthma attacks per year, and 199,000 daily incidents of upper respiratory symptoms, according to a study by Harvard University.
Air pollution didn’t tell the whole story, however. According to a report by EcoRI, the intake of water from the bay was responsible for killing millions of fish and shellfish, as well as their larvae and eggs. The water discharged back into the bay was found to contain metal cleaning waste, oil, grease, suspended solids, copper, iron, coal ash runoff, chlorine, and 20 other chemicals.
For 20 years, environmental activists agitated to force the owners of the Brayton Point facility to install cooling towers to lower the temperature of the discharge water before it went back into Mount Hope Bay. In 2011, they finally won and the company spent over $500 million to construct two 500′ tall concrete cooling towers. Now those towers are about to be demolished.
Brayton Point closed in 2017 after Dynergy, its current owner, decided it was no longer economically viable to keep it in operation. Although there is a natural gas pipeline in the area, converting the plant to gas was deemed too expensive. But Brayton Point still has one very valuable asset — a direct connection to the high voltage transmission lines that used to carry electricity away from it when it was still operating.
New owner Community Development Company intends to leverage that asset to support the offshore wind industry that is developing off the coast of Massachusetts and nearby Rhode Island. Mount Hope Bay is an arm of Narrangansett Bay, Rhode Island’s most valuable natural resource.
“The quay side here is about 750 feet long, and there’s 34 feet of water depth, which is deep enough to handle the ocean-going ships,” Steve Collins, executive vice president of Community Development Company tells Cape and Islands News.
Bill White, who previously worked for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, adds that his organization surveyed a number of power plant sites around the state, and the Brayton Point location was particularly well suited to support the nascent offshore wind industry. “What’s remarkable about this site is it’s 307 acres, it’s probably the largest industrially-zoned location on the east coast that’s currently available for this type of activity: offshore wind,” he says.
Some turbine blades are as tall as a 50-story building and need lots of room as they are moved around prior to being loaded on ships for shipment to wind turbine locations out in the ocean. The ability to connect to the existing transmission grid is an especially important consideration. “As this energy transition takes place, we’re going to see a transformation happen along the east coast, and it’s these kind of sites that are going to be important to the development of the offshore wind industry,” White says.
People who want to watch the demolition of the twin cooling towers on April 27th at 8 am will have many vantage points along Mount Hope Bay. Local restaurants with a view are sold out for what many are calling Implosion Day breakfasts. The actual toppling of the towers is expected to take about 10 seconds. The towers have been a visual feature of the local landscape for almost 15 years. Few people will miss them.
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