The Mount Tom Power Station, a coal-fired plant in Holyoke, Mass,. shut two years ago, and now it’s the site of a solar power plus storage facility.
Big win, right? Well, kind of.
Mount Tom had a maximum output of 163 MW and the solar plant is just 3 MW, and the batteries have output of 6 MWh. I’m as happy as anybody to see coal disappear and fuel-free, pollution-free sources show up, but replacing 4% of the output isn’t much of a replacement. We need lots, lots, lots more solar and storage to really make a dent in fossil fuel electricity production.
What makes you think the solar installation was meant to replace the coal facility? The two things are completely independent, they just happen to have occurred on the same piece of land. If you do want to make an accurate comparison, why not find out the footprint that received electricity from the coal plant and see how much solar or other green energy production has been built in the same area? That’s a much more reasonable discussion point. Fossil fuel-fired power plants are centralized where solar is not and can have thousands of generation sites in just one city. The solar installation you are speaking of serves one municipality (with an independent gas & electric company) which is closing in on 80% green sourced electricity. Write about that. Yes, we do need more of all kinds of green energy but this comparison based, apparently, purely on the shared address of the facilities is ill-informed, misleading and does nothing to forward the narrative.
David, you’re comparing the maximum capacity of the coal plant to that of the solar plant. But the sun doesn’t always shine, and coal plants, due to maintenance, refueling, etc. don’t always generate electricity. With capacity factors figured in, it would require the equivalent of 110 solar farms to provide as much electricity as the Mount Tom coal plant. Thus in truth, there was never any chance solar would be capable of replacing the plant.
In a coal plant there’s only one piece of equipment which creates carbon emissions: the boiler. The turbines, generator, and associated machinery, known as balance-of-plant, can take any source of steam and make electricity from it. Instead of tearing coal plants down, what if we were to find a carbon-free way to make steam?
In 2001 the thought occurred to engineers in China, a country which has more coal plants than it knows what to do with. If they could find a clean way to replace boilers in coal plants, they could start to attack the problem of poisonous pollution already choking Chinese cities. So engineers began work on a compact, economical nuclear reactor, which used coated “pebbles” of nuclear fuel to eliminate the possibility of a meltdown. The project exceeded all expectations. Later this year, the first Gen-4 nuclear plant, a coal plant with its boiler replaced by China’s HTR-PM reactor, will go online – and with a capacity of 600 MW it will generate four times as much electricity without any carbon emissions at all.
Whether this wouldn’t be a better approach to keeping jobs in America’s troubled Southeast, replacing coal plants, and eliminating all of their carbon emissions, I’ll leave for you to decide.