SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 31, 2013

Column: They got their wish ... and now they don’t want it

David Pelletier
The Salem News

---- — Way too often, people trying to tackle grand issues have to rely on many disparate elements to come into play, as well as for the stars to align in order to keep hoping and hoping that someday their wish will come true. And then, like spoiled children, when it is about to happen for them, they change their mind.

We all would love to live in a dream world, but we don’t. You would think that removing Salem’s coal/oil fired power plant might seem a dream come true for some who have advocated for nearly 20 years to get this 512-foot-tall smoke belcher replaced, cleaned up and reutilized in a manner compatible with its location, assets and newer allowed uses. But in the alternate universe we continually find ourselves living in these days, that doesn’t seem to be the case. So, what is the hold-up? Someone forgot to include zoning for a Unicorn Park?

I have followed this issue for some time and am writing to address some of the hypocrisy, false statements, acts of omission and just plan tomfoolery on the part of supposedly serious adults.

For instance, newer semantics are now thrown about, like "climate change" instead of the Al Gore-era standby "global warming," because too many were, inconveniently, unable to drink frozen Kool-Aid. In our local case, coal- and oil-powered is now being morphed into the new catch-all, "fossil fuels," so that natural gas can be conveniently included and demonized as an enemy on equal footing with the other two. ...

Solving this problem at the Salem power plant wasn’t beanbag. It all started with a panic over the claimed health issues, then it was soot on the patio, then it was the coal pile, then much less pollution. ...Paying attention and trying to create awareness were some local women. Back in 2000, HealthLink members protested at a PG&E annual meeting being held in Boston. I’m sure the usual cast of characters showed up — Lori, Jane, Lynne, Gail and others, the same individuals involved today. Susan Livingstone and her fancy billboards was yet to come on the scene.

At that time, they begged PG&E, as opponents to the Salem plant, “pushing instead for conversion to natural gas." ...

Just as this was going on, in a Canadian seabed far, far away, an 810-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline was being constructed to deliver natural gas ... right to the middle of Beverly Harbor, to within a mile of the Salem power plant. Could this be the thing to make HealthLink’s long-desired wish come true? ...

Getting it here wasn’t cheap: nearly $2.4 billion was invested. But it is here ... What HealthLink wished for ... is now closer to reality today. ...

In addition to a new, cleaner power plant, located right next to the SESD sewage treatment plant, the new company will also clean up the entire 65-acre site to reusable standards and remove Salem Harbor’s 60-year-old eyesore. This will leave nearly the size of five Salem Commons for future development. Who else will step up to the plate to get that done?

So, seven years ago all of this agitation ... prompted the state, via the Patrick Administration, to conduct a comprehensive study as to how to improve the air quality by 2020 and other issues. In a recent Salem News story, that same 2008 “Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan” was cited and supported by Marblehead Rep. Lori Ehrlich and her aide, as her basis for trying every alternative under the sun but a new gas power plant to solve the problem as she understood it. An inconvenient act of omission on her part.

Conclusions included in this lengthy report described many possible ways to lower carbon emissions by 2020, and it made numerous recommendations, big and small, on how to get there. All the usual utopian plans (many read years ago in Popular Science) were included, and it is those shirttails she has been clinging to most recently.

Unfortunately, on page 44 of that same report (Lori must have missed this page), it states quite clearly exactly what she and her supporters had been clamoring for PG&E, the old owner of the Salem plant, to do way back at that 2000 protest. The state was now supporting turning it into a gas plant. With that, you would think there would be cheering.

And what did that Mass Climate Report say? Based on EPA rules (they change every week): “If these rules result in power from two older Massachusetts (Salem & Brayton Point) power plants being displaced by natural gas-fired plants, there would be a net 1.2 million metric ton reduction in Co2 in 2020.” ...

From her very own website, Lori Ehrlich was quoted in a 2012 Washington Post story: “I would choose a brand-new, cleaner-burning natural gas plant over a 1950s-vintage, unscrubbed, coal-burning power plant any day. So, it’s a vast improvement.”

Ms. Ehrlich and her ilk have been at this for 16 years to get hers and her group’s stated wish: a natural gas-powered power plant in Salem. And now she wants a different wish.

Life doesn’t work that way. Things like this just don’t turn on a dime. Just say thank you for having one of your wishes come true and move on.

For the record: I have yet to see her introduce a bill for that wind farm off of Marblehead Neck that the Patrick Administration was advocating awhile back, or her bill to convert the roofs of Old Town into a slate- colored solar panel paradise, as is being done in Salem. Nor is there a single charging station in Marblehead for the electric vehicles of the future. ... Salem has eight. ...

I wish Ms. Ehrlich would make as much noise about Marblehead’s broken SESD pipe that regurgitates Marblehead’s other waste product back over to Salem. I would think that those emissions soiling the precious environment of Salem Harbor from that other “gas” pipe would be a higher priority than going back on her stated wishes.

Lastly: If this whole thing goes south and the site doesn’t get cleaned up and the plant taken down, I have a suggestion. Use Salem CPA funds to erect a 512-foot-tall, vertical lighted sign aimed at Marblehead reading: Thank you, Lori.

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David Pelletier is a Salem resident.