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Protesters in Bow demand the closure of New England's last coal-fired power plant

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include more details about arrests related to the protest and to correct the spelling of Katie Lessard's name.

A group of protesters gathered at Merrimack Station in Bow on Sunday to call for the closure of the last coal-fired power plant in New England.

New Hampshire State Police and Bow Police arrested 18 people during the protest. Two people were charged with criminal mischief and criminal trespassing, while others were charged with just criminal trespassing, according to Bow Police. One person was also arrested for breach of bail conditions, in addition to criminal trespassing.

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The No Coal No Gas campaign, which includes groups like 350 New Hampshire and the Climate Disobedience Center, organized the event.

One of the campaign's goals is to shut down the plant, which Granite Shore Power owns. Affiliates say they’re also hoping to ensure that the Merrimack Station is not turned into a natural gas facility, as many other coal-fired plants have been.

Dozens were arrested during a 2019 protest at the plant organized by some of the groups affiliated with the campaign.

On Sunday, participants from across the region gathered near the station to sing and make speeches before splitting into smaller groups.

Katie Lessard, a high school student from Bow, was among the speakers who called on Granite Shore Power and elected officials to listen as they spoke of the impact of climate change and the burning of fossil fuels.

“We are sick and tired of having to compromise our health and safety for corporations’ economic wellbeing," Lessard said. "Listen to us when we tell you to protect your people and to shut the Merrimack Power Station down. Do the right thing for the health, futures and well-being of your people,” she said.

Mary Fite, a Bow resident, attended the rally with her partner and three children.

“Granite Shore Power doesn’t care about this town," Fite said. "They don’t care about your health, and they don’t care about your children ... Granite Shore Power doesn’t care about climate change or the future of this plot of earth,” she said to the crowd.

"There’s been a fracture, there’s been a real problem in our relationship to the earth," Arthur Blackhawk, of the Lenape people, said, “And that relationship, and that fracture, is changing because of you.”

After the rally, a group of protesters set off for a boat launch in Allenstown. More than 30 boats carrying about 50 people paddled along the Merrimack River to the plant.

Other participants marched along the street in front of the plant’s building, while two smaller groups approached its driveway.

A group of almost 20 people approached the driveway and formed a circle around two protesters who used pickaxes to dig a hole into the road.

Nearby, another group dug holes in the soil that lined the driveway and planted a variety of plants. Participants said the plants were all edible or native.

“The people who work in the plant are not our enemies. We’re bringing food and plants that they can enjoy as well. And we want them to move with us towards a better future,” protester Leif Taranta said.

State troopers arrived and arrested the two protesters using pickaxes and one of the participants digging holes in the soil. Following the arrest of the two people who dug the hole in the road, other protesters filled the hole with bagged soil and plants.

After state troopers took the pickaxes from protesters, a group of about 15 remained on the driveway with their arms linked, holding a sign reading “Tear it down.”

The Bow police department broadcast a message telling protesters that they were in violation of a criminal trespass statute and ordered them to leave. The group continued to sit in the driveway and sing.

When they did not leave, a group of about 40 state police wearing riot gear encircled the protesters. Police placed the protesters in zip-tie handcuffs and led them to a Bow School District school bus, which brought them away from the plant.

Three of the protesters who were handcuffed were released to the crowd after the school bus left. Sue Durling, a protester from Hillsborough who said she was cited with criminal trespassing, said that her grandchildren were the reason she participated in the protest.

“The Bow Plant is a dirty, inefficient way to provide heat power," she said. "I and my generation have made a mess of this world, and I can’t just walk off and leave it like this for them, I have to do the best I can to make people aware they need to change,” Durling said.

Arrestees were all released on personal recognizance, and are set to appear in court on November 8th, according to Bow Police.

Merrimack Station is set to run at least through 2025, after winning a bid during an auction run by ISO-New England in February. ISO-New England is the nonprofit organization responsible for operating New England’s electric power generation and transmission system.

The plant provides less than 1 percent of the region’s energy. Granite Shore Power, the company that owns Merrimack Station, says that its purpose is to generate energy when other resources and fuels are not available.

Coal helps the grid run on very hot or very cold days, according to ISO-New England.

Through a spokesperson, James Andrews, President of Granite Shore Power, said, “Shuttering Merrimack station would do little to reduce total emissions in [the] region or have any measurable effect on the climate."

“Immediately retiring Merrimack Station would put energy security at risk for the families and businesses most dependent in New Hampshire as we transition to an alternative energy infrastructure.”

Fossil fuels like coal account for a significant amount of planet-warming emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

According to the UN, the energy supply sector is responsible for about 35% of greenhouse gas emissions, making it the world’s largest contributor to emissions.