BY BETHANY BRAY
---- — SALEM — Footprint Power executives said yesterday the natural gas-fired plant they plan to build on Salem Harbor will be “dramatically cleaner” than the coal-burning one that has operated there since the 1950’s.
The public got a first glimpse at Footprint’s plans at a public meeting yesterday morning — the first of what many public sessions on the project.
New Jersey-based Footprint Power bought the 64-acre Salem Harbor Station site earlier this month from Dominion Energy. Footprint will shut down the coal-burning plant on May 31, 2014.
After the closure, Footprint plans to demolish the coal-burning plant, remove the coal pile, clean up the site and build a new, 630-megawatt natural gas-fired plant.
Footprint CEO Peter Furniss said the proposed plant will be “state of the art,” use dramatically less water and generate much less carbon emissions than the existing plant. The plant will use only natural gas — not diesel fuel, which several people at yesterday’s meeting asked about — to generate electricity.
The proposed plant will “meet the strictest possible standards for emissions,” he said. “... Human health is the prime driver in this (project).”
The buildings will be smaller, with a single 230-foot smokestack. The existing plant’s tallest stack is 491 feet.
The project will need numerous permits from varying state boards and agencies before it can proceed.
Yesterday’s meeting was moderated by Deirdre Buckley, a representative from the Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and focused on an environmental report Footprint has submitted to the state about the project. Citizens have until Aug. 28 to submit written comments on the report.
The next public meeting on the project is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 19.
Furniss and Scott Silverstein, Footprint’s chief operating officer, spoke at the meeting and answered questions for more than an hour. Afterward, they led a site visit of the harbor plant.
Footprint is proposing to build a “quick start” facility, which means it can be brought online to produce 300 megawatts within 10 minutes, and be fully functional within an hour.
The proposed plant will tap into the HubLine, a gas pipeline that runs under the ocean floor from Beverly to Weymouth and is less than two miles from Salem Harbor Station.
The new plant will be air cooled, a change from the current plant, which is cooled with sea water and draws more than 110 million gallons per day, Furniss said. This will eliminate the heat and water the plant currently discharges into Salem Harbor, he said.
Throughout the redevelopment, it seems a fenced-in switch yard at the site will remain unchanged. Although on plant-owned property, National Grid operates the switch yard through an easement.
Furniss and Silvertein said the easement prohibits Footprint from making any changes to the switch yard or even testing it for contamination levels, which is happening on other areas of the property.
The proposed natural gas plant will occupy roughly 16 acres of the site; even with the switch yard and parking lot, the facility will occupy less than half of the property.
Furniss and Silverstein said yesterday they are open to continued discussions on possible uses of the available acres, including public access.
Although subject to negotiation with the city, the duo said yesterday they will match the tax commitment Dominion Energy pays to the city of Salem: $4.75 million annually.
Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.
Want to comment?Footprint Power has submitted an environmental report to the Massachusetts Environmental Policy office regarding their plans to redevelop Salem's power plant site. Written comments from the public about the report will be accepted through Aug. 28Go to www.env.state.ma.us/mepa for more information; use the project number, 14937, in any correspondence or to search for the report