SALEM — A routine license request before a state agency has become the stage for a war of words between two major players in the Massachusetts energy field over the need for a new power plant in Salem.
On one side is the Conservation Law Foundation, one of the state’s leading environmental advocacy organizations, which opposes Footprint Power’s plan to build a natural gas-fired facility on the Salem waterfront.
On the other side is ISO New England Inc., manager of the New England power grid, which announced earlier this year that power from the proposed Salem plant will be needed in a few years, a major decision that helped spur the project along.
In what insiders say is a rare move, two high-ranking ISO officials wrote to the state Department of Environmental Protection this month to take strong issue with claims by the Conservation Law Foundation.
In a July letter to the DEP, the environmental group said that the Footprint plant “is not necessary to ensure the continued supply of electricity to the NEMA/Boston area” and that better options are available for providing, or guaranteeing that electricity.
The Conservation Law Foundation went on to say that more power may come on line through transmission upgrades and that ISO has a number of other and better “tools” than a new Salem plant to ensure energy reliability.
“CLF is simply wrong,” wrote Raymond Hepper and Kevin Flynn, two top ISO lawyers, in an Aug. 9 letter to the DEP.
“Without Footprint, there would be a shortage of capacity in the (Northeastern Massachusetts/Boston) capacity zone for the 2016 through 2017 commitment period. In other words, without Footprint, the NEMA/Boston capacity zone would not meet reliability standards.”
They went on to call Footprint “both the only choice and the best choice” at this time to meet the region’s future power needs.
Footprint Power, a New Jersey company that acquired the 65-acre Salem plant last year, is currently going through the permitting process, and also seeking additional financing, for a 692-megawatt gas plant.
Salem Harbor Station, which burns coal and oil, has shut down two of its four generators and will close for good next May. Footprint says it can have a new plant up and running on a portion of the site by 2016.
The Conservation Law Foundation led the fight to close the fossil fuel plant and opposes the gas plant proposal on a number of grounds. Currently, it is fighting Footprint’s request for a variance of a state waterways license.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.