SALEM — The natural gas-fired power plant proposed for Salem Harbor took a big step toward becoming a reality yesterday.
While several more permits and approvals are needed, yesterday’s OK from the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board means the project has cleared a major hurdle. The board had been reviewing Footprint’s petition for the past year.
“This is a historic morning,” said Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, who attended the state board’s hearing in Boston. “This is the largest and most important permit. Without this, there is no plant ... We’re excited to be at this point.”
The coal-fired Salem Harbor Station power plant is scheduled to close in May. New Jersey-based Footprint Power purchased the property last year and plans to redevelop the site, building a 670-megawatt, $800 million natural gas-fired plant.
About seven hours after the siting board’s vote yesterday morning, another state entity held a public hearing — this time, on an air quality permit for the proposed plant — at Bentley Elementary School in Salem.
Roughly 50 people attended the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s hearing last night. DEP representatives heard close to two hours of public comment, a mix of both pro and con.
“In Salem’s 400-year history, this is the most important redevelopment project,” said state Rep. John Keenan, D-Salem. “I could not support this more.”
Webb Street resident Jeff Brooks was among those who raised concerns about the plant’s impact on the environment and surrounding neighborhoods.
Residents will become “collateral damage,” he said.
“Just insisting ‘no more fossil fuels, no more fossil fuels’ is not a plan,” said Jeffrey Barz-Snell, minister of The First Church in Salem and co-chairman of Salem Alliance For the Environment.
ISO New England, which operates the region’s power grid, has OK’d Footprint’s plans and said the power the new plant would generate will be needed by 2016.