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MA Coal Plant Converted to Solar Farm

Monday, January 7, 2019

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With activists successfully pushing to convert the site of a former coal-and-oil plant, located in Holyoke, Massachusetts, into an area for a solar farm, the area is now a step toward the community’s goal of becoming carbon-neutral.

The Mount Tom Power Station, in operation for more than 50 years and closed in 2014, now features over 17,208 solar panels and a battery storage system. Collectively, the solar farm puts out 5.8 megawatts of power, a significant drop from the site’s former 146 megawatts.

From Coal to Solar

In 2010, activists began putting together a campaign to close the plant to protect local residents and plant employees. (Asthma rates in the area were twice as high as elsewhere in the state.) At first, the company running the site, GDF Suez, now renamed Engie, was unresponsive, but after the threat of a press conference if the company refused to meet, Engie opened up lines of communication. (The company cited competition with natural gas a reason for the plant’s closure in 2014.)

Toxics Action Center, partnering with Neighbor to Neighbor, spearheaded the conversion push. After activists worked to get the city a grant to evaluate options for the site, solar power was found to be a viable option. In 2017, solar panels were installed and operational. By September 2018, the state's largest utility-scale energy storage system was installed. The storage system’s batteries discharge energy into the grid when demand calls for it.

Engie also has a 20-year agreement with municipally owned utility Holyoke Gas & Electric to run the site.  

According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, the endeavor is the largest community solar project in the state. Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Judith Judson told the Gazette that there are 86,000 distributed solar projects across Massachusetts.

“We have a vision of being one of the first carbon-neutral communities in the state, throughout [the] Northeast, and throughout the United States,” said Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse. “And this helps us further accelerate that goal.”


Tagged categories: NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Solar; Solar energy

Comment from Lou Lyras, (1/7/2019, 9:55 PM)

Why are we applauding this? 5.8 Megawatts of power instead of 146 megawatts, large areas of land are used, at most the panels will only last 20 years, and to make matters worse all the panels are made in China. We have the technology to produce thousands of megawatts on the same land by using state of the art nuclear power plants that are safe, dramatically reduce waste, and have zero carbon emissions. The public and many environmentalists are unfortunately misinformed.

Comment from Regis Doucette, (1/9/2019, 2:33 AM)

Like so many misguided initiatives these days, consider if we were forced to reduce our capacity as stated by “outsiders” or conquerors. I imagine most folks would rise up in arms for turning our nation backwards.

Comment from Tony Munson, (1/9/2019, 9:11 AM)

I'm 'applauding' the math and logic of the statement made by Mr. Lyras...two things typically avoided when decisions are supposedly made in the public interest.

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (1/9/2019, 11:08 AM)

NIMBY strikes again...the moment someone even considers the "other n-word" you all but have the protesters lining up to fight it. Solar and wind, though nice in theory, still have many, many shortfalls. Mr. Lyras points out some very important ones about solar while a fine and report in my jurisdiction make me question the "costs" that should be associated with the bird kills from wind farms (~$100k / bird, anyone?). I'd love to see a full sized, molten salt thorium reactor operating somewhere, but I won't hold my breath on it.

Comment from Lou Lyras, (1/10/2019, 8:49 AM)

Excellent. The MSRE (Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment) was conducted back in the 60's, successfully. Everyone who cares must read about it. We have the technology to build small footprint, environmentally clean, power plants that generate massive amounts of power, and reduce the nuclear waste that is being stock pilled. In our coating industry we witnessed massive changes due to environmental and health initiatives. We met the challenge and we did it. Does it cost more? No, the cost to go back to the “old” ways cannot be calculated. Why can’t we do the same with our energy needs? This takes is political will, and politicians who understand the true science, not the “science” that they hear from special interest groups (Oil Companies).

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (1/11/2019, 11:15 AM)

Lou, when you look at what went on around the MSREs, it was the fact that they could not be used to enrich fuel (i.e. to generate weapons grade products, which was a priority in the 50's and 60's) that was the biggest issue that kept them from being fully developed. I've read that they actually consume 90+% of the fuel used and generate far, far less radioactive waste than the technologies that we pursued. Add to it the inherent safety (i.e. if the plant loses power or has a major upset, the process automatically shuts down...unlike current processes where you can have catastrophic run-away failures like Fukushima and Chernobyl) and it just makes you shake your head. The abundance of thorium in the environment mean we could power this planet cheaply, efficiently, safely and in an environmentally friendly way for quite some time (i.e. until we can develop other, even cleaner technologies) but the "other n-word" fear and NIMBY mindset are major hurdles.

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