SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

May 1, 2013

Power plant review to start

Public hearing tomorrow begins approval process for natural gas proposal

SALEM — The local approval process begins this week for the largest city construction proposal in decades.

The Planning Board will open a public hearing tomorrow night on Footprint Power’s request to build an $800 million natural gas power plant on the Salem waterfront. The review is expected to take several months.

The 7 p.m. meeting will be held at Bentley School, rather than the City Hall Annex on Washington Street, to accommodate the large crowd that is expected.

“We want to make sure everybody who is interested is able to attend,” City Planner Lynn Duncan said.

Over the next few months, Footprint will file plans with the Conservation Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals, which also must approve the 670-megawatt plant.

This local review is only a small part of a complex and daunting approval process.

Footprint has filed with the state Energy Facilities Siting Board, a nine-member review panel, and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. It also needs approvals from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The siting board held hearings this winter and is accepting briefs, or written comments, from interested parties. A decision is expected this summer.

At the same time, Footprint is in talks with Spectra Energy, which owns and operates the offshore gas pipeline that runs from Beverly to the South Shore.

Hanging over all of this is Footprint’s quest for funding.

Although ISO New England, operators of the regional power grid, ruled this winter that it will need power from the new Salem plant by 2016, a decision that guarantees several hundred million dollars in revenues, Footprint officials were unsuccessful in their bid for additional funding guarantees through the state Department of Public Utilities.

As a result of that setback, Footprint is seeking a new funding source, a process that is underway.

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