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September 20, 2012

Power plant public hearing attracts crowd in Salem

SALEM — The first large public hearing on Footprint Power’s plan to build a natural gas-fired power plant on the Salem waterfront generated a lot of questions and concerns, but little heat.

If there is strong, broad-based community opposition to the idea of replacing 61-year-old Salem Harbor Station, a coal and oil-fired facility, with another power plant, it didn’t emerge last night from the more than 100 people who attended a Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board hearing at Salem High.

The project got a warm reception, as expected, from elected officials, business leaders and a union representative from the plant, but it also was endorsed by a Salem-based environmental group and several neighbors.

“I see natural gas as the future...” said Peter Hackmeister, who lives near the waterfront.

State Rep. John Keenan of Salem said he heard strong support while campaigning recently in Salem Willows, a neighborhood in the shadow of the plant.

“The neighbors are excited to see the stacks come down and to see the coal pile disappear,” he said.

Representatives from Salem Alliance for the Environment, a local group, said they overcame reservations about the fossil fuel’s impact on the environment to support a project that will be good for the city’s financial health.

“The economics are there so we’re for this,” said Jeffrey Barz-Snell, co-chairman of SAFE.

The group said it also was impressed by the ability of the 630-megawatt, “quick-start” plant to start up in just 10 minutes, making it a dependable backup for attractive, but less reliable renewable energy sources.

The most impassioned opposition came from Pat Pollard, a Marblehead resident who lives across from the plant. She said area residents have suffered serious health problems over the years and that it “matters little” what fossil fuel is burned.

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