SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

December 19, 2013

Watson: Moving from fossil fuel to renewable fuel

Last week, I wrote about the controversy around the proposal to build a new power plant in Salem. I described the unique constraints of the waterfront site, the concerns of the city, and the pros and cons of a new gas plant. I also outlined the nature of the two lawsuits brought by the Conservation Law Foundation appealing the approvals received by Footprint Power (which would build the plant).

I described state Rep. John Keenan’s proposed legislative amendment that would essentially bypass CLF’s — and any other — present and future appeals and, thereby, allow Footprint to maintain its February construction commencement date. I explained that Keenan is relying on the judgment of the Independent System Operator (ISO), which has concluded that the new gas plant will be needed in 2016 to maintain the New England electrical grid’s capacity and reliability.

Finally, I stated my belief that, while a new power plant could facilitate a welcome cleanup and redevelopment of the entire 65-acre site, I don’t view the entire situation as an emergency that warrants eliminating the right of appeal.

But there is another subject that this debate touches, and that is the present composition of the regional electrical grid and the power-generating plants on it. By understanding some of the components and variables — capacities, fuels, loads, efficiencies, actual production — that characterize the delivery of electricity in New England, we can begin to assess how much progress we’re making toward the utilization of renewable energy, and we can start to consider what measures, if any, we’d support to accelerate that transition.

Currently, there are about 350 power generators on the New England grid. They are fueled by a wide variety of resources: oil, nuclear, natural gas, coal, wood, wind, solar, biomass, refuse and water (hydro). They range in size from massive nuclear plants to tiny solar arrays.

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