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Portsmouth residents concerned about Schiller Station soot

Staff Writer

Published: Friday, December 6, 2013

Updated: Friday, December 6, 2013 01:12


Soot fell like snow onto rooftops and vehicles. Gray particles layered themselves on any surface they could. A coal-colored wonderland awaited them outside their doors.

The Public Service of New Hampshire, which owns and operates Schiller Station in Portsmouth, N.H., wants the Schiller Station coal plant to remain in operation. Activists and some citizens in Maine and New Hampshire want it improved or closed. The real force behind the issue, though, is not energy or money or stubborn attitudes: It’s about people.

Across the border in Eliot, Maine, residents have been neighbors with Schiller since its construction in the late 1950s. For years, Eliot residents asked state officials if Schiller was a safe neighbor. They got no response.

“[Eliot residents] would talk about the outside of the house just being covered and the soot getting inside their house,” Catherine Corkery, chapter director of the NH Sierra Club, said. Corkery has worked with Eliot residents in the past. “I just thought, wow, think about your lungs. What do your lungs look like?”

Some Eliot and Portsmouth residents alike are concerned about Schiller Station. 

“I live just a few hundred yards from Schiller Station,” Portsmouth’s newly elected Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine said in a press release, “and I know that on certain days when it’s in operation, I can smell it, and my own breathing on those days has become worse.” 

Christina Dubin, a volunteer with Clean and Fair Power, recently moved to Portsmouth at the end of May with her husband and son. 

“I’m expecting another child next May and we plan on staying in Portsmouth,” Dubin said, “so this is an important issue to us.” 

So what does Spokesman for Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) Martin Murray think about the idea of closing Schiller? He has people to fight for, too.

“There’s real jobs, real people connected to these plants,” Murray said. “And basically we’re seeing a few people that are, in my words, kind of flippantly dismissive of these plants without really suggesting a reasonable replacement or alternative for what we have today.” 

From Murray’s perspective, PSNH is not stagnant. Rather, it is already doing what it can do to accommodate those who live near Schiller Station in Portsmouth.  

“We appreciate our neighbors in Portsmouth,” Murray said. “We operate in an industrial area of the port, and we’ve been there for many years. But we do recognize, you know, we have residential neighbors, some of whom are concerned about noise – about emissions. We have absolutely no problem responding to concerns and working on methods to improve our operations.”

According to a press release from the Toxics Action Center, there was a forum in Portsmouth wherein state and local officials met with residents to discuss retiring Schiller Station. 

Lately, the river front coal plant with three boilers has been the cause of controversy. With all three boilers in use, the coal plant can power 125,000 to 150,000 buildings. That’s 50 megawatts of power. So with economic benefits and environmental downsides, the plant is the center of an issue that is not exclusively environmental or economical. The real issue lies with the people and the pollutants they say affect them. 

“This is about peoples’ health,” Corkery said.

In terms of Schiller’s pollution levels, the Toxics Action Center published Schiller’s pollutant levels in a document called “25 Years of the Dirty Dozen: Past and Current Pollution Threats in New England.” 

Based on the document, “In 2011, Schiller Station released 95,828 pounds of toxic chemicals into the air, including 8,200 pounds of ammonia, 82,000 pounds of hydrochloric acid, 4,900 pounds of sulfuric acid, 4.5 pounds of mercury compounds and 5.7 pounds of lead compounds.”

Despite the gruesome numbers, Murray said that Schiller station meets current Environmental Protection Agency regulations. 

The problem to Corkery – and the rest of New Hampshire’s chapter of the Sierra Club – is not that Schiller meets regulations now, but that it will not meet EPA revised regulations for stricter air quality that are expected in May. 

“We tested with the EPA models to see if Schiller coal would actually meet the expectations of the new regulations for sulfur,” Corkery said. “And we found doing the EPA-guided modeling on the computer … that Schiller coal actually doesn’t. It would not meet the shorter hour regulations.”

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