Recent Brayton Point Protest First of Many

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

SOMERSET, Mass. — Activists say the recent protest at the Brayton Point Power Station is just the first of several larger public demonstrations slated for the fossil-fuel energy plant.

In an effort to shut down the highly polluting power plant, the Massachusetts chapter of activist Bill McKibben’s 350.org is amassing 1,000 protestors for a demonstration the weekend of July 27. A march from Brayton Point to Cape Cod is planned for the days preceding Labor Day.

The May 15 protest began when Ken Ward, a Rhode Island native and former director of the Providence-based Apeiron Institute for Sustainable Living, launched his 32-foot lobster boat Henry David T. from Newport for the ride up Narragansett Bay to Somerset.

The protest took place just as the plant’s owner Dominion Resources Inc. is expected to officially sell the facility to the private equity firm Energy Capital Partners. Dominion, based in Richmond, Va.,  bought the plant in 2005. A Dominion official said the protest will not affect the sale.

Brayton Point Power Station is the largest fossil-fuel power plant in New England. It generates 1,528 megawatts of electricity from three coal-fired power units and one natural gas/oil burning unit.

Ward and Jay O’Hara, of Bourne, Mass., dropped a 200-pound mushroom anchor from the keel of the boat to block cargo ships from delivering coal to the power plant. At 9 a.m. May 15, Ward notified Somerset police of the protest. Eventually, the Coast Guard and Massachusetts State Police boarded the boat. The incident was peaceful, although the police were highly armed, including two police snipers overseeing the scene from ashore.

“We had a lot of people with guns around,” Ward said.

It took nearly three hours to remove the large anchor. Eventually, a utility barge hauled the anchor aboard with a crane. Neither Ward nor O’Hara were arrested or cited, although they could be ordered to pay the cost of the police response.

The Coast Guard said the demonstration temporarily delayed a 700-foot cargo ship from delivering a shipment of coal from West Virginia.

At one point, the captain of the ship radioed Ward to move his lobster boat. According to Ward, the captain said he had a “system of defense” to forcibly remove the boat, but no action was taken.

Ward said the protest was necessary because time is running out to address the climate crisis. “I think I’ve tried everything and nothing is working,” he said. “We are at or past the tipping point. People should be crying out. We needed to be doing that all along but now we need to desperately be doing it.”

The recent action has drawn a large response from people, including nearby residents of Brayton Point, interested in joining future demonstrations, Ward said. Several local residents complained of a constant coating of coal ash on their property. Brayton Point offers residents vouchers to wash their cars and homes.

Brayton Point has consistently ranked in New England’s dirty dozen polluters for its heavy coal use. The power plant is considered the largest emitter of carbon dioxide between Maryland and Maine when running at capacity.

In April, Dominion agreed to pay $13 million in penalties and to fund mitigation projects for violations of the federal Clean Air Act at Brayton Point and two other coal plants. The Environmental Protection Agency also required Brayton to install or upgrade pollution controls, such as emission-reducing scrubbers.