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December 23, 2013

Mayor hits road to gain support for power plant

SALEM — Mayor Kim Driscoll ventured into “enemy territory” this week to make a pitch for a new Salem power plant.

Driscoll gave a PowerPoint presentation at a Marblehead Chamber of Commerce meeting Thursday morning, the first of what is expected to be several trips to area business and civic groups.

It was no accident that Driscoll made Marblehead her first stop. It is home to state Rep. Lori Ehrlich, a plant opponent, and environmental activists who share Ehrlich’s belief that the proposed 674-megawatt fossil fuel plant is not needed and will be a source of pollution for decades.

Driscoll’s speaking engagement comes as Footprint Power’s $800 million plan to build a natural gas plant at Salem Harbor Station is caught in what supporters are casting as a life-and-death struggle. In March, the state Supreme Judicial Court is expected to hear an environmental group’s appeal of a key state board’s approval of the project.

Footprint needs to resolve the legal dispute and obtain the required permits to secure financing, order equipment and start construction on a facility it plans to open in June 2016.

During her talk before an audience of about 20, Driscoll made several references to the perceived “hostility” between the two communities over this issue.

“It’s been divisive between the communities, and I don’t think it has to be,” she said. “... We’re neighbors.”

Driscoll told the Marblehead audience that the power plant will be cleaner than other gas plants and will provide needed power to the region.

“It’s going to be smaller, it’s going to be cleaner, and it’s much less of a blight,” she said. She said the plant will be “the most efficient gas plant on line.”

It also is expected to be the city’s biggest taxpayer, as the current plant has been for years.

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