SOMERSET, Mass. — Forty-four people face trespassing charges after being arrested Sunday at a protest in Somerset, during which they called for the shutdown of New England’s largest power plant.
On a soggy Sunday morning, 300 to 400 demonstrators began gathering at 9 a.m. at a baseball field in the shadow of Brayton Point Power Station‘s two massive cooling towers.
They came from as far away as Vermont and New Hampshire to this quiet coastal town on the south coast of Massachusetts to protest the coal-fired power plant and to demand cleaner energy sources.
“In a global sense, there’s such an urgent need to cut fossil fuels that I feel it needs to be shut down and we need to start making plans about it right now,” said Eben Bein, who took the commuter rail down from Somerville.
For 90 minutes, demonstrators listened to environmentalists, coal miners and union activists, like Peter Knowlton, the president of the United Electrical Workers Union Northeast Region.
“We know now that the production and the dumping of these toxins was directed by corporate executives who felt it was worth the risk for cheap electrical transmission,” Knowlton said. “But when you work on the suite on the top floor you aren’t exposed to the toxins. We are on the ground floor.”
Brayton Point’s owner, Dominion Energy, wouldn’t agree to talk on tape. But, in a statement, it said that it has invested more than a billion dollars to reduce the plant’s environmental impact and that the plant is necessary to ensure energy reliability and to keep prices down.
Among the Somerset community, feelings about the plant are mixed. There are those who side with the protesters and who wish they had been there when Brayton Point was built half a century ago.
Others say the plant is key to the local economy.
Bob Clark, president of the utility workers union at Brayton Point, called the demonstrators naive.
“There’s no simple answers,” Clark said. “We want electricity. We want all these iPads and iPhones and ThinkPads and Kindles and all this and that. Well, they all take power.”
After a quarter-mile walk to the power plant, protesters in red shirts held hands as they crossed a no trespassing sign in groups of five, as the crowd cheered. They had attended an informal training session the day before and had come with the intention of getting arrested.
The arrests themselves were orderly. Somerset police said the protesters had communicated with police throughout the planning process to ensure everyone’s safety, and on the whole had been cooperative.
Dominion is actually in the process of getting out of the coal-energy business. In March, it said it was selling Brayton Point to a private equity firm based in California and New Jersey.
Correction: This post has been updated to reflect the correct number of protesters facing trespassing charges. The correct number is 44, not 45, as reported earlier.