BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — Footprint Power’s plan to build a natural-gas power plant on the Salem waterfront has evolved into a battle being fought on many fronts.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is set to hold a hearing in March on an environmental group’s appeal of an approval the $800 million project secured from the state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board.
Private meetings are taking place among the Conservation Law Foundation, which filed the appeal, the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Footprint Power and Mayor Kim Driscoll to try to resolve the dispute.
Against that backdrop, a number of environmental groups plan to rally in Salem next month in an effort to convince Gov. Deval Patrick, in his final year in office, to block the plan to build a plant at Salem Harbor Station.
Plant opponents plan to meet on Salem Common at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 8, and lead a “clean energy parade” past the current coal- and oil-burning power plant, which is set to shut down on May 31.
Footprint has proposed opening a new plant in 2016.
“The prime actor here we’re seeking to engage is Gov. Patrick,” said Craig Altemose, executive director of the Better Future Project, organizers of the anti-plant rally.
“We’ve put out a call to Gov. Patrick, who’s been a really strong champion on this issue, to have our state be the first state that commits to meeting all new electricity demands through conservation, efficiency and renewables, and to stop building new fossil-fuel-burning plants,” Altemose said.
The Better Future Project, a relatively new Cambridge-based agency, is organizing the rally in conjunction with its own volunteer group, 350Massachusetts, GASPP (Grassroots Against Another Salem Power Plant) and HealthLink.
The Conservation Law Foundation and other opponents contend the new plant will not be able to comply with the Global Warming Solutions Act, which calls for large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, a bill Patrick signed into law in 2008.
Footprint Power says its 674-megawatt plant will be an efficient gas-burning plant with relatively low-cost power that will reduce pollution significantly by replacing the electricity provided by older fossil-fuel plants with higher emissions. It also bills itself as a “bridge” plant to a time when the state can rely more on renewable energy.
Despite strong statements from ISO-New England, managers of the regional power grid, that power from the Salem plant will be needed by 2016, the environmental groups insist there is only a short-term need for a small amount of power. While ISO warns of “controlled rolling blackouts” if the plant is not built, the environmental groups warn of dire consequences to the environment from decades of pollution.
In a related development, HealthLink is organizing a petition drive in opposition to the plant.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.