Footprint Power, a startup New Jersey-based energy company, announced yesterday that it has signed an agreement to acquire Salem Harbor Station power plant from Dominion Energy of Virginia.
Terms of the sale were not announced.
Footprint said it plans to “remediate” a 63-acre waterfront site that has towering smokestacks, a coal pile and oil tanks. A city study estimated cleanup costs at more than $50 million.
Footprint also said it will develop a natural gas plant on one-third of the property, reportedly a site along Fort Avenue near the city’s ferry landing. The remainder of the waterfront property eventually will be used for commercial and industrial redevelopment, the company said.
The sale is expected to take 30 to 90 days to become final.
Once the deal closes, Footprint said it will operate the existing coal- and oil-fired plant until June 2014, the date set by Dominion to shutter the facility.
Earlier this year, Footprint filed a request with ISO-New England, the regional grid operator, to begin supplying power by 2016 from its new gas plant.
It made another legal filing yesterday with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The company made the announcement of the signed purchase-and-sale agreement at a meeting yesterday morning with workers at Salem Harbor Station.
“I think everybody’s looking forward to working with Footprint,” said Rick Robey, assistant business manager of IBEW Local 326, which represents about 100 hourly workers at the plant. “They have a little more to offer now as far as the future goes.”
While fewer employees will be needed to run a gas plant, Footprint told workers that, over time, possible light manufacturing on the waterfront property could be another source of future jobs, Robey said. In addition, a representative from NAES Corp., which will operate the plant, said jobs may be available at its other power plant sites for workers willing to relocate.
“This is their first project,” Robey said of Footprint. “I’m sure they’re going to try to do everything they can to make it go right. We’re optimistic and think it’s going to be a good start.”
News of the tentative sale was cheered by Mayor Kim Driscoll and state Rep. John Keenan.
“Footprint’s acquisition of the plant and its 63 acres on our magnificent waterfront finally answers the decades-old question ‘What next?’” Keenan said in an email.
“The transition will not only stabilize our property tax base, but also provide cleaner, more efficient and reliable energy. ... As we will require Footprint to demolish the existing plant and stacks, we will restore some 30 to 40 acres of our waterfront to its vibrant and prosperous past.”
Driscoll said she has not had “detailed” talks yet with Footprint but is encouraged by discussions so far.
“The fact we’re not going to have to padlock that site and have new owners interested in working with us to put something good on that site, consistent with our plans, is very good news for Salem and for our future,” the mayor said.
Footprint said its plans are consistent with the recommendations of a city study completed earlier this year on the future use of the power plant site.
Jane Bright of HealthLink, a North Shore environmental group that fought to close Salem Harbor Station, said the group has many concerns about Footprint and its proposal.
Proposed state legislation that seems aimed to aid Footprint raises questions about the company’s economic viability, she said. Bright said they are also troubled by plans to burn more-polluting diesel fuel, as well as natural gas.
“We just have lots of questions,” she said. “Until we get these questions answered, we take the position we cannot support it.”
Footprint issued a statement yesterday after meeting with workers.
“The new plant design will usher in a new era of power generation in New England by reducing emissions through the ISO New England system,” the company said.
“The Footprint team is focused on improving the environment through proper remediation, reduced emissions and enhanced integration of renewable resources — as well as providing employment opportunities and generating tax revenue — while ensuring that the city of Salem once again has access to Salem Harbor, its greatest natural resource.”
Footprint Power was formed in 2009 to find new uses for aging fossil fuel plants.
“The company was founded on the simple idea that instead of ignoring older, less-efficient coal- and oil-fired power plants, it makes more sense to face head-on the challenges they pose, while also taking stock of the many opportunities they present,” the company said in its statement.
The Salem plant will be its first acquisition.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.