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Biden to visit closed power plant in Somerset on Wednesday for event on climate crisis

President Joe Biden speaks on the South Lawn of the White House July 11.Evan Vucci/Associated Press

President Biden will visit the shuttered Brayton Point power plant in Somerset on Wednesday to discuss the climate crisis, officials said Tuesday.

“President Biden will travel to Somerset, Massachusetts” on Wednesday, the White House said in a statement. “The President will deliver remarks on tackling the climate crisis and seizing the opportunity of a clean energy future to create jobs and lower costs for families.”

Biden will visit the shuttered Brayton Point power plant, which is undergoing a transition from the old coal powered facility to wind power.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden will announce “additional climate actions” on Wednesday, but will not declare climate a national emergency this week, which activists have called for him to do.

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“This climate emergency is not going to happen tomorrow, but we still have it on the table,” she said. The White House declined to say what other actions Biden will announce on Wednesday.

Jean-Pierre said the shuttered coal plant highlights green energy investments the administration has made possible through the $1 trillion infrastructure law that passed last year.

Biden has been under pressure to declare a climate emergency after his agenda stalled in the Senate again last week when Democratic West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin signaled he would not support additional measures to combat climate change. A climate emergency declaration would empower the president to be able to do more administratively to curb emissions.

Biden has called climate change an “emergency” before, but has stopped short of making an official declaration under the National Emergencies Act. According to one estimate, US presidents have declared 60 national emergencies since 1976, but never for this purpose.

Somerset Acting Town Administrator Michael Gallagher said in a statement Tuesday that the community looks forward to welcoming Biden Wednesday and that residents can expect gridlock while the president’s in town.

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“We’re excited to welcome President Biden and his administration to the Town of Somerset tomorrow,” Gallagher said. “Residents should expect significant road closures, detours and traffic delays throughout the day.”

Gallagher’s words were echoed by Somerset Select Board Chairman Allen Smith, who said in a phone interview that he was “thrilled” Biden was coming to town.

“Obviously the hope for development of the Brayton Point property has always been to be a hub for wind energy, and his visit, I think, will certainly put us on the map for that,” Smith said.

Matt Corridoni, a spokesman for Congressman Jake Auchincloss, a Democrat whose district includes the Somerset property, said Tuesday via Twitter that Auchincloss will be on hand for the president’s visit.

“Can confirm @RepAuchincloss will travel with @POTUS to Somerset tomorrow,” Corridoni tweeted. “The Congressman is committed to a clean energy future and looks forward to uplifting Brayton Point and offshore wind as a powerful example of how Massachusetts leads the way.”

Brad Campbell, president of the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental group that spearheaded the charge to shut down the old Brayton plant, said in a statement Tuesday that it’s appropriate for Biden to make a stop there Wednesday.

“CLF’s fight to shutter a dirty coal plant not only stopped a major public health threat, but also helped birth a new clean energy industry that will be an economic driver for the region,” Campbell said. “That’s why this site is such an appropriate place for President Biden to focus on the climate crisis tomorrow.”

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Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Cambridge Democrat and former presidential candidate, wrote in a 2020 Washington Post op-ed days after Biden’s election that he should declare “the climate crisis a national emergency to start marshaling resources toward addressing this challenge.”

Before it closed in 2017, the coal-fired Brayton Point Power Station was one of the largest power plants in New England.

Now the site will be pivotal for a new sector of the energy industry: the offshore wind industry. It also would help another offshore wind farm — one owned by European energy companies Shell, EDP Renewables, and Engie.

That project, Mayflower Wind, won contracts in December 2021 to generate 400 megawatts for Massachusetts, boosting the wind farm’s total generating capacity to 1,200 megawatts.

Mayflower Wind, whose wind turbines would go up in waters southeast of Avangrid’s projects, would use Brayton Point to connect to the region’s electricity grid through an undersea cable more than 90 miles long. Ports in Salem and New Bedford also will play key roles in the construction of these projects.

In February, energy industry executives and politicians gathered at Brayton Point to usher in a new era for the town, and the region ― one in which offshore wind replaces coal as a source of energy, jobs, and taxes.

The February event was held to highlight a key milestone in that shift: a deal by Italian cable manufacturer Prysmian Group to acquire 47 acres at Brayton Point for a factory that would make the subsea lines that would bring the electricity generated offshore to the mainland.

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Prysmian decided to build the plant because its wind-farm partner, Avangrid Renewables, won contracts in December to provide more than 1,200 megawatts of power to Massachusetts, enough power for 600,000-plus homes. Avangrid will deliver that power by building the Commonwealth Wind project 20 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, in waters near where Avangrid is developing the Vineyard Wind project as part of a joint venture.

Casey Bowers, executive director of the Environmental League of Massachusetts Action Fund, said Tuesday in response to the news of Biden’s visit that the climate crisis requires decisive action.

“Ultimately, we hope that President Biden will announce actions that meet the scale and urgency of the crisis we face,” Bowers said in a statement. “We need our federal leaders to commit to immediate action to reduce emissions and protect our communities, particularly low-income residents and communities of color which have long been overburdened by fossil fuel pollution and are inordinately suffering from the consequences of climate change.”

Bowers said Biden could announce a number of “meaningful actions” Wednesday.

“The President has the power to take executive action to strengthen standards for cars and trucks, methane, or additional pollution from power plants, for example,” Bowers said. “ ... We hope tomorrow’s announcement accelerates the pace of progress at all levels of government. Brayton Point is a fitting venue for this visit, exemplifying the opportunity that a strategic and equitable transition to clean, local offshore wind can bring. This community played a critical role in providing energy to the Commonwealth in the past and will catalyze a renewable energy future for the region.”

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This is a breaking news story that will be updated. Liz Goodwin of the Globe Staff contributed, and material from prior Globe stories was used.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.