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October 9, 2013

Salem power plant gets tentative state approval

Siting board to vote on final approval tomorrow

SALEM — The natural gas-fired power plant that developers want to build on the Salem waterfront appears on the verge of a major milestone.

The Energy Facilities Siting Board, the state agency that has been reviewing this proposal for the past year, is expected to approve the project at a meeting tomorrow in Boston.

A tentative decision issued a few days ago granted approval and found that “the construction and operation of the proposed generating facility will provide a reliable energy supply for the Commonwealth with a minimum impact on the environment at the lowest possible cost.”

Tomorrow, the full board will hear from proponents and opponents and then vote on final approval.

The project got its first important green light in February, an OK from ISO New England, operators of the regional power grid. ISO officials said power from the Salem plant will be needed in 2016 for energy reliability.

Although the project needs a number of state and local permits, the Energy Facilities Siting Board is seen as one of the longest and most detailed reviews.

“This is the primary permit they needed,” said state Rep. John Keenan of Salem, who is co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy.

An official from Footprint Power, the New Jersey firm that bought the 65-acre power plant property last year and is advancing this quick-start, 630-megawatt natural gas proposal, expressed cautious optimism on the eve of tomorrow’s vote.

After noting that staff from the state board conducted a thorough and lengthy review, Footprint President Scott Silverstein said “we’re hopeful (the board) will vote to make this decision final.”

Tomorrow night — hours after the meeting in Boston — the state Department of Environmental Protection will hold a 7 p.m. hearing at Bentley School on air-quality permits for the project.

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