Sweet Victory in My Beloved New England: Entire Region to be Coal-Free by 2028

Today, a retirement plan to stop burning coal in New England was announced as part of a legal settlement that the Sierra Club helped to negotiate. Since I started working at Sierra Club, first as a legal intern in law school, and now as the Chief Energy Officer, I’ve been working on the national transition from coal to clean energy and have been part of some incredible, transformational victories, but today’s milestone of a coal-free New England is deeply personal for me. 

I live in Madison, Wisconsin, but New England will always be my home; it’s where my roots go deep. I’m a fourth generation Vermonter, born in Randolph and proud to say that I can still walk in the woods in New England and name most of the tree species that my Dad taught me when I was a kid. We frequented swimming holes on the White River, hiked Camel’s hump countless times, and paddled around ponds and lakes with a cup of worms and a fishing pole. 

Looking back, it was in New England that I also had my first exposure to the impacts of coal plants and fossil fuels. In high school we visited the Mt. Tom coal plant in Massachusetts (retired in 2014) and in college I canvassed door-to-door raising money for clean water with a focus on mercury pollution. Coal plants to this day are the largest source of mercury pollution that plague lakes and rivers around the country. When I was eight years old, we learned about a dangerous underground pollution plume in my backyard. A prior owner had dumped chemicals - petrochemicals, actually - in a trench in our pasture and we had to leave my childhood home. Ending the era of fossil fuels is a deeply personal pursuit for me, and it’s a matter of survival for all of us. 

To celebrate this milestone - a coal-free New England - as part of the Sierra Club’s team working tirelessly around the country to usher in the transition to clean energy is a profound honor. The region’s last two coal plants in New Hampshire, Merrimack Station in Bow and Schiller Station in Portsmouth, are set to retire their coal burning units in 2028 and 2025, respectively. In total, 560 megawatts of dirty power will go offline for good. For 25 years, the Sierra Club has pushed for the retirement of both Merrimack and Schiller, organizing events like hair testing for mercury, and connecting with communities in nearby Massachusetts and Maine that are impacted by the plants’ pollution. 

Becoming a coal-free region puts New England at the forefront of the transition to clean energy. Given the devastating consequences of climate change, this kind of leadership cannot come fast enough. Flooding in VermontMaine, and Massachusetts has devastated New England communities. My own great grandfather died from complications related to a similar flood in 1927, leaving behind his young children, including my grandfather. Coal-free is a significant milestone, but it’s not the destination.  The work ahead includes supporting the growing offshore wind industry off New England’s coastline.  It includes stopping the expansion of methane gas infrastructure, like Project Maple, that threatens the region’s climate progress.  It includes investments from the Inflation Reduction Act to electrify New England, while training the workforce that is so critical to this transition.

Together, we can lead the nation toward a 100 percent clean energy future that protects our homes, our natural spaces, and our families. This summer, I’m taking my family on a trip home to New England. My young daughters have never been to see the Green and White Mountains. We will linger a little longer with our feet in the clear streams, and stop with enthusiasm to see clean energy on rooftops, and we will revel in the beauty, grit, and determination of this special place and the vision it has birthed for the future that is actually right here within arms reach.