, Salem, MA

May 9, 2014

The last lump

Salem power plant burns its final coal fire

By Neil H. Dempsey
Staff Writer

---- — Say goodbye to coal.

Salem Harbor Station shut down its last generator capable of burning the black stuff about 8 a.m. yesterday, ending a long era of Salem playing host to a coal-burning power plant.

The incoming Footprint facility will burn only natural gas.

The generator — Unit 3 — could burn both coal and oil. Although it can always be restarted should energy officials request more electricity be produced, Mike Fitzgerald, the plant’s general manager, said its days of burning coal are done.

“We’re pretty much burned out of coal,” he said. “There’s some little bits here and there.”

The plant used coal from the time it opened in 1951 to 1968, and then again from 1982 onward, Fitzgerald said. It sometimes encountered opposition for doing so, from environmental groups as well as neighbors, who complained that coal dust would sometimes settle over houses and cars following deliveries to the local dock.

One of its most memorable moments came in August 2001 when Greenpeace protesters climbed the coal pile and handcuffed themselves to high-voltage transformers.

The once-towering coal pile adjacent to that dock is now almost gone, and by this autumn, the dock itself likely will be renovated to host cruise ships. Part of the area now reserved for the coal pile could be used as a staging location for tourist buses.

The coal left at the site came from the bottom of the pile and is too dirty for a generator, Fitzgerald said.

“Rocks don’t burn,” he said.

Of the power plant’s original four generators, only Unit 4 remains in operation. It runs exclusively on oil. Should Unit 3 be restarted, it would be run with only oil, too.

Neil H. Dempsey can be reached at or followed via Twitter at @NeilDempseySN.