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‘Must run’ coal plant to shut down in 2017

The owner of Brayton Point power plant in Somerset said Monday it will retire the coal-fire facility as planned in 2017, despite a recent determination from the region’s grid operator that the plant is needed to meet future demand for electricity and avoid possible power outages.

Closing the plant, the second largest in New England, likely will mean higher electricity prices for consumers in coming years — though just how much is unclear — as newer, higher-cost facilities are used to replace Brayton, industry officials said.

“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.

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ISO New England, the grid operator, has also indicated that Brayton’s retirement could also cause problems for the electric grid if enough new sources of electricity aren’t found in time to fill the gap.

Rising competition from cheap natural gas, the cost of complying with increasing environmental regulations, and the plant’s age, factored into the decision, according to a statement from Brayton Point Energy LLC. Brayton Point, the second-largest power plant in New England. Brayton Point has operated since 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.”

Monday’s announcement comes just days after the ISO asked Brayton’s owners to expedite a decision on whether to keep the plant open following a determination that the facility is “must-run.”

Normally, plant owners get six months to decide. But because the ISO is planning for the retirement of several other plants in the region — including Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon, Vt. and Salem Harbor Power Station — Brayton was asked to speed its decision-making.

The company alerted grid operators late Monday morning that Brayton would retire as planned.

ISO representatives offered assurances about the agency’s ability to keep the lights on without Brayton, even if expected electric-generating projects aren’t completed on time.

“The ISO and transmission owners will have special transmission operating plans in place to deal with unexpected transmission or generation outages.”

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