As you may know, the No Coal No Gas Campaign was first launched by the Climate Disobedience Center core team in 2019, alongside our friends at 350NH. Since then, it’s grown to include over 1,600 people in the New England region, as well as several wonderful supporters across the continent. We have many incredible core organizers from multiple New England states, and I’m fortunate to be able to spend about 75-80% of my organizing time working with these amazing folks! I’m so grateful for the support of the wider CDC community for this work – it’s what allows us to keep working to realize our three campaign goals: build community, show what’s possible, and shut down fossil fuels in the region. I wanted to give you a little update of what No Coal No Gas has accomplished this year and ask you to please donate to support our continued organizing.
On January 8th, No Coal No Gas kicked off the year with an action at the Merrimack Station – the region’s last coal-fired power plant. A few of us climbed up the smokestack of the plant while it was running and released a banner that said “SHUT IT DOWN.” Two other folks locked themselves to the base of the tower in support, while others supported from the river and the road. Standing on the ledge of the smokestack, I could feel the fumes from the plant burning the back of my throat as I watched steam rise where the cooling system discharges water back into the river and melts the ice.
It was heartbreaking to be so up close and personal with the same machines that are killing people in central New Hampshire and accelerating climate change. Yet even as I wheezed from the cold and chemical plumes, I could also hear the cheerful encouragement from my friends down below. And even high up in the air in the cold, I didn’t feel remotely alone. This action was really meaningful for me to participate in personally, and certainly got the attention of plant owners Granite Shore Power, who showed up at the plant during our action! You can read coverage in the Concord Monitor here.
Left: Leif smiles while sitting high on a smokestack at the coal-fired Merrimack Station in Bow, NH with the icy Merrimack River behind them. Right: The "Shut it Down" banner is deployed from the smokestack.
Moving on to February, the campaign pivoted our focus toward the regional grid operator (ISO New England) and its Forward Capacity Auction, which keeps Merrimack Station and other fossil fuel plants alive through an absurd system of ratepayer subsidies. To protest that outdated system, No Coal No Gas decided to host our own parody “Auction of Horrible Things” aimed at educating the public about ISO’s tomfoolery. Once the results of the real ISO auction were released, we spent March organizing 150 people to submit public comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission opposing the continued subsidies to Merrimack and other fossil fuel generators. This initiative also opened a door for us to build a continued relationship with FERC’s Office of Public Participation, as well as ISO stakeholder groups and state ratepayer advocates in our region. It was really satisfying to show up to video calls with representatives of NEPOOL and NESCOE and to be able to point to the pages and pages of comments from everyday ratepayers in favor of a just transition. I watched several suit-clad officials shake their heads in bafflement at the kind of power we were building, then decide to help us in our journey. As you’ll see later, these relationships have proved strategic in our ongoing ISO organizing!
In March, we also supported five defendants from 2019’s Hooksett Coal Train Blockade as they stood trial in Concord Superior Court. Though they were blocked from using a competing harms defense (necessity defense) by the judge, each defendant and their defense team did an incredible job articulating the reasons for their actions and their deep concerns surrounding climate injustice. Dozens of community members attended the trial in support and though four of the defendants were ultimately convicted, the trial was a huge victory for community building and NH legal organizing. It was so inspiring for me to watch my friends stand strong in the face of an unjust and bureaucratic legal system- explaining exactly why they did what they did without a vindictive judge and prosecution and the threat of jail time cow them into silence. I’ll be honest that I was furious at the trial result and my friends’ subsequent sentencing, but I was also so encouraged to watch the network of support that came together around the trial. So many incredible folks spent days making sure that everyone was fed and care for as the defendants and lawyers prepared their testimony and several folks simultaneously organized around the return of coal trains to our communities.
Defendants and their supporters gather outside the Hooksett Coal Train Blockade trial.
In April, we received the incredible news that Castleton Commodities, one of Granite Shore Power’s parent companies, had divested from fossil fuels, selling its stake in the company to their partner, Atlas Holdings! Propelled by this victory, we returned to ISO organizing, holding a protest outside the spring meeting of ISO Stakeholder group, NEPOOL, while two No Coal No Gas activists were inside the meeting and others dropped a banner from a nearby train bridge. This action was really exciting to me because it was led by a lot of folks who were new to the campaign! Sitting in our debrief circle after the action, I got to hear participant after participant talk about what they had learned and how we might improve future actions. It was so gratifying to hear so much collective enthusiasm, especially from folks who had just joined our community! Over the summer and into the fall, we kept building leadership capacity- through trainings, workshops, and affinity group networks designed for supporting new action leaders. It was so exciting to me to watch newer folks step into leadership roles, from working groups to action planning, to core campaign strategy! Throughout the summer and into the fall, we also did court support for defendants from the September 2019 Bow action, the smokestack action, and the Oct 2021 gardeners action.
Left: A banner reading "Strike Down Coal, Build Up Justice" hangs from a railroad bridge over a road in downtown Worcester, MA. Right: Activists hold signs greeting attendees at the ISO stakeholders meeting and encouraging them to move swiftly toward grid transition.
In the late spring, some of our veteran activists held a ceremony at Merrimack Station’s coal ash disposal site in solidarity with an action at a coal-fired power plant in West Virginia – a testament to their determination for collective healing in a month filled with war, violence, and dirty political deals.
Activists hang a banner at Granite Shore Power's coal ash disposal site in Bow, NH in conjunction with a healing ceremony and in solidarity with bold action in West Virginia.
COURT SUPPORT IS YEAR_ROUND!
In the early fall, we crashed a FERC’s technical conference on winter grid reliability in protest of FERC and ISO policies. We also handed out goodie bags filled with coal, no-bake cookies, and campaign literature. In November, we attended ISO-NE’s first ever public Board meeting, and we turned out a large majority of those who engaged in the public comment section of the meeting. Our folks delivered clear critiques of ISO’s continued support of fossil fuels and neglect for rapid grid transition.
A No Coal No Gas activist stands with our banner and goodie bags outside the meeting room of the FERC Winter Reliability Conference in Burlington, VT.
As the season progressed, we published a parody press release, as well as a spoof website, announcing that Granite Shore Power had filed to retire Merrimack Station. We were able to publish in Utility Dive, a major clearinghouse for news about the utility industry, during the window in which Granite Shore Power could have actually filed with ISO New England to de-list the power plant. Our article remained up for 9 whole hours, and our spoof website was online for several days before being removed due to “copyright complaints." You can expect to see more of that website when we finish making it more satirical and argue that the webhost should allow us to publish it on first amendment grounds. I really enjoyed seeing the delight on folks’ faces as they saw our own announcement on Utility Dive and a very official-looking website or listened to our rerecording of Granite Show Power’s answering machine. Personally, I found the creativity of this action super energizing- there’s just something so delightful about being able to get under a corporation's skin, unmask the harms they are creating and show the world as it should be! Our final spoof action of 2022 was the release of our version of a Granite Shore Power commercial. This 90-second commercial is one of my go-to resources for times when I need a quick laugh!
In December, we kept up with the theme of corporate surprises by showing up in droves to ISO-NE’S Consumer Liaison Group (CLG) biannual election, where we elected 6 activists and 6 allies to serve as the Coordinating Committee. The CLG has traditionally served mostly as a corporate luncheon, where grid regulators and fossil fuel lobbyists present ISO talking points to attendees. It was quite delightful to show up with a hundred other activists and see industry insiders’ bafflement at the collective power of ordinary ratepayers. Quite a few rich men in suits scowled at us, which made me think we are probably on the right track. I’m really hoping the new coordinating committee will be able to turn the CLG into a platform for frontline voices, climate action, and participatory energy democracy. You can read more about the election here and here.
Eight of the 12 elected to the CLG coordinating Committee from our slate! Left to Right: Elizabeth Mahoney (MA Attorney General's Office), Jacob Powsner (VT), Don Kreis (NH Consumer Advocate), Nathan Phillips (MA), Sonja Birthisel (ME), Regine Spector (MA), Ian McDonald (CT), Kendra Ford (NH).
And now, coal trains are back in the region. On the dark morning of the winter solstice, several of our friends safely stopped a train carrying 10,000 tons of coal to Merrimack Station. By locking themselves to the track after the train was stopped they held it in place for hours. Two blockaders were ultimately arrested, and then released without charges. As long as Merrimack Station keeps attempting to refuel, we are determined to get in the way of coal shipments. You can read the press release about our action here, and find a lot of great livestream videos on the No Coal No Gas Facebook page.
Left: A CSX train hauling 10,000 tons of coal is stopped by protesters in Westford, MA. Right: Coal train blockaders and supporters gather outside Ayer District Court after the prosecutor declined to file charges.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this recap of the efforts of the No Coal No Gas campaign in 2022. I feel so privileged to work with NCNG, both because it is a powerful, strategically motivated force for climate action in New England, and even more so because it is my home. I love each person in this network so deeply, and I have watched these amazing folks care for each other through both triumphs and utter chaos. Whether we are standing atop smokestacks, sneaking extra cookies from the ISO luncheons or checking out of three hour zoom calls, I know each and every person in No Coal No Gas has my back. The first goal of this campaign is to build a community of climate dissidents, and I’m so excited to keep doing that.
Many thanks for your ongoing support and engagement!