SALEM — Footprint Power has dropped the other shoe, announcing yesterday that the acquisition of the Salem Harbor Station power plant from Dominion Energy Inc. is a done deal.
“The change in ownership went into effect Saturday,” according to a press release. The company also confirmed that public meetings will be held to discuss their plans, which currently include an end to the coal plant’s operation in May 2014.
After that, the plant will be razed and the site cleaned up.
“Even in advance of the acquisition,” the statement said, “Footprint began the process of developing a new, clean, efficient natural gas-fired power plant on the Salem Harbor site.”
Senate Majority Leader Fred Berry of Peabody cheered the development last night.
“It’s a great step forward,” he said. “Our main goal is to keep that piece of land on the tax rolls for the foreseeable future.”
Berry was among those, including Salem Rep. John Keenan and Gov. Deval Patrick, supporting recent legislation on Beacon Hill designed to encourage the cleanup of the site and ease Salem’s finances during the transition. He acknowledged environmental concerns regarding a plant that will continue to burn fossil fuels even after a new plant is built.
Global warming seems to be intensifying, the senator observed. But he also suggested that moving from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas is an improvement.
“It will make it better,” he said. “Less harmful to the environment.”
Footprint’s plans include taking only a portion of the site now used to burn coal and using the land to build a gas-powered plant able to produce 630 megawatts of power. The current plant has an output of 748 megawatts.
“By demolishing the existing facility when the remaining units are removed from service, remediating the site, and scaling back power generation to a small portion of the site, we look forward to the residents of Salem having access to their waterfront for the first time in generations,” Footprint President Scott Silverstein said in yesterday’s press release.
The pollution created by the coal-burning process has generated years of controversy, with environmentalists linking it to health concerns. Even the prospect of moving from coal to natural gas has failed to mollify some critics.
Activist Jane Bright of Marblehead and HealthLink recently told the News that she would be happy with no plant. “If they said, ‘We’ll put it up for 10 years and take it down, as a bridge to a cleaner future,’ it would be a different conversation,” Bright said. “... It could be here a very long time, well after gas is no longer viewed as having any environmental benefit.”
On the other hand, Pat Gozemba of Salem Alliance for the Environment (SAFE) welcomed last night’s news.
“We are optimistic about the gas plant,” she said. “We are happy that the coal plant is closing.”
Given both the environmental and economic factors involved, she said, “The plan Footprint has put forward is the best solution for Salem.”
Footprint is a New Jersey-based company that seeks to make older plants like the one in Salem, which went into operation in 1952, viable again. The company pledged to work closely with the community in building the new gas plant.
In addition to its supposed environmental benefits, natural gas is increasingly touted by some as plentiful and ultimately cheaper, particularly here in North America with new drilling techniques releasing large amounts of the fuel.