SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 5, 2013

Salem mayor names power plant advisers

BY TOM DALTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALEM — Mayor Kim Driscoll has named local environmentalists, community representatives and elected officials to an advisory board on the redevelopment of the Salem Harbor Station power plant.

The 13-member board will serve as a “clearing house” for information and issues involving the reuse of a 65-acre waterfront property that is both the city’s No. 1 taxpayer and its most important development.

Driscoll said the city hopes to do “something transformational here.”

The board holds its first meeting today at 2 p.m. at the Salem Five bank.

The announcement comes as the aging coal- and oil-fired plant prepares to close next year, and as plans for a new natural gas plant are being reviewed by state agencies and set to go forward at the local level.

Footprint Power of New Jersey, the new owner, hopes to open a gas plant in 2016.

“Obviously, we’ve never reviewed a power plant before,” Driscoll said, “and whatever we do on this site we’ll have to live with for several decades.”

Footprint, which bought the Salem Harbor facility last summer, has pledged to clean up the site, demolish buildings, and redevelop the waterfront property, which has a deep-water port that could make it attractive to industrial and commercial users.

The developer is donating more than $100,000 to hire consultants to work with the advisory board.

“We’re hoping to put a group of stakeholders together so we can better understand the potential impacts,” Driscoll said.

“And it’s not lost on me that we have one chance to get this right. It’s a complex project. It has layers and different permitting approvals.”

State Rep. John Keenan, a member of the advisory board, echoed the mayor’s comments.

“It’s as complicated a redevelopment as there has ever been in the city,” said Keenan, who also heads a separate state task force on the project.

For starters, there is no guarantee that a natural gas plant will be built. And without the gas plant and the revenue it would produce, the redevelopment of the site could take years longer.

“As the city’s reuse study made clear, full redevelopment of this site, which is significantly larger than Salem’s existing central business district, could take between 50 and 60 years without a power plant,” Peter Furniss, the chief executive officer of Footprint, wrote in an e-mail.

“With the new power plant as the anchor tenant of the site and the economic engine that will drive the redevelopment of the remaining acreage, we will be able to significantly expedite that process. We are confident that the development of the new power plant will be successful in light of the significant reliability, economic and environmental benefits it will provide.”

Although Footprint announced last fall that it has a high-profile partner, Toyota Tsusho of Japan, large hurdles remain.

For one, the organization that manages the electricity grid for New England must determine there is a need for more power, and give Footprint the green light to take part in an “auction” to provide electricity in 2016. That auction concludes today.

Maybe even more daunting, Footprint must secure a long-term contract from a utility to provide electricity, something that is not common in Massachusetts but which the company says it needs to secure financing. When Keenan tried to insert just such an agreement into an energy bill last year, it drew stiff opposition and had to be removed.

The energy bill that eventually passed included a provision that allows the state to begin a competitive process for one of those power-purchase agreements. The state Department of Public Utilities is expected to issue a ruling next month that could get that ball rolling.

Whatever happens on that front, Footprint has pledged to clean up and redevelop the site.

In a related development, Footprint said its environmental review showed that the property is not as polluted as some feared, and that it won’t cost as much as predicted to clean up. Estimates had run as high as $50 million to $70 million.

The company also said it soon will unveil an “iconic” design for the gas plant by a prominent New York City architecture firm.

Tom Dalton can be reached at tdalton@salemnews.com.

Power Plant Stakeholders Group

Mayor Kim Driscoll

State Rep. John Keenan

State Sen. Joan Lovely

Ward 1 Councilor Bob McCarthy

Harbormaster Bill McHugh

Jeffrey-Barz-Snell, Salem Renewable Energy Task Force and Salem Alliance for the Environment (SAFE)

Mickey Northcutt, North Shore Community Development Corp.

Patricia Zaido, Salem Partnership

Linda Haley, Derby Street Neighborhood Association

Fred Atkins, Harbor Plan Implementation Committee

Patricia Gozemba, SAFE

Barbara Warren, Salem Sound Coastwatch

Salem State University President Patricia Meservey