, Salem, MA


May 20, 2013

McAllister: Salem's longtime economic hub


The Salem Terminal Co. never built the electric plant it had planned for the property, but survived by selling imported coal to regional mills, power plants and local dealers. Business was good again; in 1929, the Salem Evening News reported that the weekly tonnage being landed in one week in Salem eclipsed the annual tonnage during the East India Trade era.

In 1949, the Salem Terminal Corporation sold its property to the New England Power Co. which would eventually acquire most of the waterfront from India Street to Cat Cove. Additional dredging and filling (more than half of the present-day 65 acres was created) went on until 1952.

The first electricity generating unit went on line in 1951, the second a year later. Then in 1958, in response to the region’s growing demand for electricity, the company added a new, 140,000-kilowatt unit that doubled the Salem Harbor Station’s capacity.

The Pocohantos Steamship Co. operated the coal facility at the plant, handling the fuel needed to run the NEPCO generating units while also selling coal and oil through dealers in its system. By 1956, thanks to the volume of fuel products coming into Salem each year, the city boasted one of the busiest small ports on the East Coast.

In 1966, NEPCO took over the fuel terminal management and eliminated the wholesale part of the business. But in 1973, the then Pickering Oil Co. relocated its wholesale heating oil distribution operation to the Salem Harbor Station. In between, the NEPCO plant had switched to oil as its primary fuel source and built additional oil storage tanks.

The growth in regional demand for electricity convinced NEPCO to add a fourth unit in 1972. Reflecting the instability of Mideast oil supply, it was to burn low-sulfur coal rather than oil. Between 1982 and 1985, two of the other units were converted back to coal at a cost of close to $100 million.

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