SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

February 7, 2012

Court settlement with Salem power plant ends city's coal era

SALEM — A federal court settlement announced yesterday between Dominion Energy Inc. and two environmental groups that accused the company of pollution violations signals the death of coal at Salem Harbor Station.

The agreement resolving a 2010 lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court includes a stipulation that future plant owners cannot burn coal after 2014, when Dominion has announced it will shut down the fossil fuel facility.

Coal, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels, has been burned off and on at Salem Harbor Station since the plant opened in 1951. Prior to that, the waterfront area was a coal terminal.

While banning coal, however, the settlement with the Conservation Law Foundation and HealthLink, a North Shore group, does not slam the door on someone else building or operating a power plant at the 62-acre waterfront site.

That possibility was raised last week when a New Jersey company, Footprint Power, confirmed a report in The Salem News that it is negotiating with Dominion to build a natural gas plant here.

The court agreement states that a future company "may ... seek to re-power Salem Harbor Power Station or construct a new electric generating unit not fueled by coal," according to Dominion.

There are environmentalists in the area who hoped Dominion's exit in two years would mark the end of Salem's 60 years of hosting a "dirty" power plant.

While it may have preferred such a ban, HealthLink did not ask for that in court.

"There are many of us who feel that way, but we never would have reached a settlement had we taken that position," said Jane Bright, a spokeswoman for the group.

Local review and permitting will provide controls over what is built at the site in the future, Bright said.

The settlement also includes an "enforceable commitment" from the plant owner to shut down all four generating units by 2014, according to HealthLink. Dominion had already voluntarily made that commitment.

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