SALEM — The state will make sure that past and current owners are held responsible for the cleanup of the Salem Harbor Station power plant, the state’s top energy official said yesterday.
“We are not going to let any responsible party off the hook,” said Richard Sullivan, secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. “We need to hold everybody responsible.”
Sullivan came to Salem yesterday as chairman of the newly formed Salem Harbor Power Station Task Force, an 11-member committee set up to oversee the demolition, cleanup and redevelopment of the waterfront plant.
Task force representatives were led on a tour of the 65-acre site by Peter Furniss and Scott Silverstein, two principals of Footprint Power, the New Jersey company that acquired the plant last month and that has pledged to take down current buildings and smokestacks, clean up the polluted property, build a new natural gas plant, and redevelop the rest of the site.
Even though Footprint has promised to get the job done, state officials said they will play an active role, providing both oversight and, if necessary, assistance in the massive, multimillion-dollar project. Cleanup alone has been estimated at $55 million to $75 million.
At this early stage, state officials appear to be feeling their way, since there are no state laws governing the decommissioning of fossil fuel power plants like the 745-megawatt Salem facility, which has burned coal and oil for more than 60 years.
The Salem plant will shut down in May 2014. Footprint hopes to open a new gas plant two years later.
By next spring, the task force plans to offer recommendations that could be used in a power plant decommissioning bill. There are other coal plants in Holyoke and Somerset that may face a similar fate.
The Salem task force is the byproduct of eleventh-hour negotiations over an energy bill that passed the Legislature this summer. It was proposed by Sullivan to provide guarantees that would take the place of a controversial amendment attached to the bill by Salem state Rep. John Keenan, which environmentalists lampooned as a “sweetheart deal” for Footprint Power. Keenan and Footprint disagreed with that characterization.