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Owner reaffirms 2017 closing of Brayton Point plant

Loss of coal-fired facility, one of state’s dirtiest generators, may raise prices

Brayton Point in Somerset is considered to be among the state’s dirtiest power plants.

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

Brayton Point in Somerset is considered to be among the state’s dirtiest power plants.

The owner of Brayton Point power plant in Somerset said Monday it will retire the coal-fired facility as planned in 2017 — a closure that industry officials said could mean higher electricity prices for consumers and, in the worst cases, power shortages.

Brayton Point is one of three large New England plants shutting down over the next few years, which has raised concerns by the region’s power grid operator, ISO New England, about meeting the demand for electricity. Last month, ISO New England determined that Brayton, one of the largest generators of electricity in New England, is needed to help meet demand and asked its owner to keep the plant running beyond 2017.

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In a statement, however, Brayton Point Energy LLC said it does not make financial sense to do so. Rising competition from cheap natural gas, the cost of complying with increasing environmental regulation, and the plant’s age factored into the decision, the company said.

The facility, which employs about 190 people, opened in 1963.

“It is a very unfortunate and difficult reality that Brayton Point is an aging coal power plant under growing economic pressures,” the statement said. “It would be imprudent to create false expectations about the long-term prospects for Brayton.”

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Brayton’s shutdown could lead to higher electric bills for households and businesses as the costs of building new plants and transmission facilities to replace the old plant are passed along to customers.

“We are starting to pay for some of the older resources to go away,” said Dan Dolan, president of the New England Power Generators Association, a trade group.

ISO New England officials offered assurances about its ability to keep the lights on without Brayton. “We are already working to develop solutions that can address the reliability concerns,” spokeswoman Marcia Blomberg said in a statement.

ISO is planning for the retirement of several plants in the region, including the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon, Vt., and Salem Harbor Power Station, another coal-fired plant. The Salem plant, which will shut down this summer, is scheduled to be replaced by a natural gas-fired plant in 2016.

The region’s biggest utilities, National Grid and Northeast Utilities, are expected to add nearly 75 miles of electric transmission lines in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts by late 2015, which would help meet some of the expected demand for electricity, by improving efficiency and easing energy bottlenecks.

The project has approvals in Connecticut and Rhode Island, but is still awaiting a decision in Massachusetts.

The question is whether these projects can be completed on time. The Salem natural gas project has been challenged in court by environmentalists, while transmission lines frequently spark opposition.

If the new transmission line is built, ISO New England has said, the project would eliminate the need for most of Brayton Point’s electricity.

The 51-year-old plant has been on the edge of closing for a while. Brayton Point and Salem Harbor, long considered among the state’s dirtiest power plants, are among the last of the large coal-burning facilities in Massachusetts.

Cheryl LaFleur, acting chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — it regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil — on Monday called Brayton’s retirement the end of an era for a facility “that has been a critical part of the energy infrastructure for a long time.”

“It’s the availability of other resources that can run more economically that is challenging the older resources,” she said. “New England is going through a lot of change in its energy supply.”

Somerset resident Pauline Rodrigues, a member of a grass-roots group that has pushed for the plant to be closed, said she has mixed feelings about Brayton’s retirement, given that it is Somerset’s biggest taxpayer.

Brayton’s owners have agreed to pay the town $16.75 million through 2016, according to the town assessor’s office.

But in viewing the closing from a health perspective, Rodrigues said, “I am thrilled to death.”

Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.
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