After months of sometimes bitter back-and-forth, the Conservation Law Foundation and proponents of the proposed Footprint natural gas-fired power plant on the Salem waterfront managed to come together to move the project forward.
While both sides are claiming victory, the real winners here are the taxpayers of Salem and the residents of the North Shore — who count on a reliable source of electricity to help them live their daily lives — two constituencies often ignored by environmental puritans who favor ideology over people.
The agreement struck a blow for real-world environmentalism. Pie-in-the-sky calls to turn the contaminated 65-acre site into a park while relying on still-emerging wind and solar power to supply energy to tens of thousands of homes and businesses was never a workable solution for the city or the region.
Under the terms of an agreement reached last week, Footprint will keep the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions below 2,279,530 tons per year until 2025, and then at successively lower levels each year afterward. Footprint has also agreed to end the plant’s commercial operations by 2049 and shutter it completely within the following two years.
In exchange, the Conservation Law Foundation dropped its appeal of the state approval process for the proposed $800 million, 630-megawatt plant. The agreement was followed by a final approval from the state Energy Facilities Siting Board.
“The agreement shows how natural gas can be a tool for reducing greenhouse emissions if it is appropriately conditioned and constrained in a manner that is consistent with the need to decarbonize our energy system,” CLF attorney Shanna Cleveland said in a statement.
Let’s be clear here, however: The Footprint proposal was good to begin with. The old coal-and-oil fired plant will be removed, and the site will undergo a complete cleanup, with several acres open to public and private use for the first time in generations. Even before the new restrictions pushed by the CLF, the state-of-the-art plant promised to be a winner from an environmental standpoint, cutting CO2 emissions by 450,000 tons — the equivalent of taking 90,000 cars off the road.