BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — Footprint Power is taking on a big-time international partner in its first venture, the development of a natural gas power plant at the site of this city’s old coal plant.
The New Jersey-based company announced yesterday that it is partnering with Toyota Tsusho Corp., a trading company headquartered in Japan that develops businesses around the world and is part of a group of companies that includes Toyota Motors Corp.
The partnership gives Footprint “instant credibility,” according to state Rep. John Keenan of Salem.
Toyota Tsusho will be “actively involved in the development process, contributing financially to the project as well as providing its expertise in development and operation of electric generating facilities,” Footprint said in a statement.
“I think it’s great news,” said Keenan, co-chairman of the Legislature’s joint committee on telecommunications, utilities and energy. “I think when people hear Toyota, they instantly think of a brand name and extensive credibility.”
In 2010, Toyota Tsusho acquired a 45-percent interest in a natural gas plant in Texas, and last year increased its share to 50 percent in a natural gas plant in Ontario, Canada, according to a press release from Footprint.
Toyota Tsusho appears to be a “powerhouse,” said Rob Lutts, president and chief executive officer of Cabot Money Management in Salem. Lutts specializes in China, India and emerging global markets.
Lutts said the announcement should be “great for us and great for Footprint. (Toyota Tsusho) has deep pockets, certainly, and can only help their financial wherewithal to complete the project.”
Footprint, which is based in Bridgewater, N.J., was founded in 2009 by two lawyers with extensive backgrounds in the energy field who were looking to redevelop shuttered fossil fuel plants. However, the Salem plant is only their first project, which drew criticism in some quarters, or at least questions, when their acquisition of the plant was announced last month.
Peter Furniss and Scott Silverstein, the two principals of Footprint, have announced plans to clean up the 65-acre site along Fort Avenue, build a gas plant and develop the rest of the waterfront property. In an interview a few weeks ago, they said they had a strategic partner for the natural gas plant but delayed announcing the news until yesterday.
“We are delighted to add a world-class organization with Toyota’s resources and experience as a member of our team,” Furniss, Footprint’s CEO, said in a statement. “We look forward to working together with Toyota Tsusho to successfully develop a new, clean, efficient facility that will serve as the economic engine that will drive redevelopment of the rest of the non-power portions of the site.”
Footprint will operate Salem Harbor Station, a coal and oil-fired plant, until June 2014, when the plant will close. Footprint plans to open a natural gas plant two years later.
Before that can happen, however, the project needs a number of approvals.
The state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board, which must issue a permit, is holding a public hearing on the project Wednesday, Sept. 19, at 7 p.m. at Salem High School.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.