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.
The task force concept emerged from talks involving Sullivan; Keenan, who is chairman of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy; and Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll. Sullivan said he made a personal commitment to the Salem officials not only to chair the task force but to be an active participant.
The task force, made up of state and local officials, has been charged with preparing a “plan of action” that includes demolition of existing facilities, cleaning up of the site, maintaining tax revenues and as many jobs as possible, ensuring responsible parties are held liable, and taking additional steps, if required, to assist redevelopment.
“Thanks to this legislation ... we really have a chance to do something transformational, not only for the site but for the city,” Driscoll, a task force member, said at the group’s first meeting, held in the Winter Island function hall following the tour.
During the walking tour, the Footprint owners pointed out the spot in the middle of the site where they plan to build a 630-megawatt gas plant. It is away from homes along Fort Avenue, they said, and is being designed to minimize noise. It is also set off from the waterfront and a large track adjacent to the city’s ferry landing, which they are leaving open for redevelopment.
The Footprint owners also walked along the waterfront, showing off the deep-water port where coal ships have arrived for years and where they hope to attract new development.
“This is an incredible resource,” Furniss said as he stood with his back to the water.
The Footprint owners made some interesting revelations during the tour. They are already selling off some of their oil, which they don’t need, and hope they won’t need any more coal deliveries between now and the 2014 shutdown. In other words, they hope the current pile, depending on what happens to natural gas prices, will see them through to the end of the coal era.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.