Recently, the Environmental Facilities Siting Board approved Footprint Power’s gas-plant proposal for the site of the Salem Harbor Power Station. The proposed plant, which still must be approved by other state agencies, has been controversial among environmentalists across the state. Many believe that, in the face of climate change, we cannot afford to build any new fossil-fuel electric plants.
Salem Alliance for the Environment (SAFE) has struggled with this question. Like our allies in the environmental movement, we dream of a future in which energy demand is reduced dramatically by advances in energy efficiency and is supplied by clean and renewable sources. We believe that this vision is achievable if our country and other nations rally to the urgency of the climate change crisis at hand. Even with an urgent mobilization, however, we expect the transition to a low-carbon world to take several decades to achieve.
The energy transition
One viable path toward a lower-carbon future is to use high-efficiency, combined-cycle gas plants like the one being proposed for Salem. This technology allows for the rapid increase or decrease in power production at any given moment and, therefore, is an ideal facility to be paired with wind and solar farms, whose generation is intermittent and constantly changes.
SAFE’s vision for our region includes the development of a wind farm off the coast of Salem and/or Cape Ann — an area particularly well-suited for wind development. Such a wind farm would be situated in close proximity to a major hub in the regional power grid, the National Grid substation which is adjacent to Salem Harbor Power Station. This is an ideal point of interconnection for a large-scale renewable energy project, especially when accompanied by a generation facility that can quickly ramp up and down its generation to “firm” power generated from an offshore wind farm.
A renewable energy future
It is this vision of increased wind and solar power — both of which are far more viable when partnered with quick-start gas plants that can power up immediately when the wind stops blowing or the sun stops shining — that has convinced SAFE to support the Footprint project. Our support, however, remains conditional, based on our assessment of the environmental impact of the plant and Footprint’s willingness to negotiate a positive Community Benefits Agreement with the City of Salem.
Whether this plant plays a role in reducing carbon emissions regionally and globally rests on whether local and regional leaders and community members insist upon it. It is up to us as a society and a community to embrace that potential and support and pursue ways to live more lightly on this planet.
Jeff Barz-Snell and Patricia Gozemba are members of The Salem Alliance for the Environment. A more detailed version of this statement can be found at salemsafe.org.