SALEM — A proposed natural gas power plant on Salem Harbor cleared a huge hurdle yesterday.
ISO New England, which manages the electrical grid for the region, allowed the new plant owners to take part in an energy auction this week, a signal that additional generation from the Salem plant will be needed in 2016 and beyond to ensure energy reliability in northeast Massachusetts.
“We have cleared the market,” Peter Furniss, chief executive officer of Footprint Power, the new owners of Salem Harbor Station, said late yesterday.
This is the first time ISO New England has acknowledged a need for new generation in several years.
If Footprint had not been allowed into the auction, it would have meant the Salem plant was not needed — at least in the near future.
Although Footprint still hopes to secure a long-term agreement to provide power, the decision yesterday by ISO is seen as a major step toward financing and building a new plant.
“Another hurdle has been cleared,” said Mayor Kim Driscoll, “and it makes the proposal all the more real.”
In addition to being an important potential development, the power plant has been the city’s No. 1 taxpayer for decades.
The current coal- and oil-fired power plant is slated to close next year. Footprint hopes to open a new gas-fired plant in 2016.
The New Jersey-based company, which bought the Salem Harbor Station power plant last summer, has pledged to clean up the site, demolish most of the buildings and develop the 65-acre waterfront property.
The new power plant is seen as a key anchor project that will generate revenue and spur other development. Without the plant, it could take 50 years or more to develop the property, a state-funded study concluded.
“We’re pleased that ISO New England has recognized the need for our facility, and we look forward to working through the rest of the processes toward bringing our plant on line,” Furniss said.