, Salem, MA

December 2, 2013

Keenan: Myth vs. fact on Salem Harbor Station

John Keenan
The Salem News

---- — With all of the recent hype and hyperbole in the media, I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight on why I’m fighting so hard for a new power plant in Salem. I firmly believe that the redevelopment of Salem Harbor Power Station provides significant economic and environmental benefits to Salem and the state as a whole. Any legislator worthy of the title would do no less for his/her district.

Nonetheless, I have received some recent criticism for my efforts to help Salem deal with the circumstances we now face: retiring an old power plant, the potential loss of tax revenue, the loss of jobs, the possibility of a blighted and abandoned property, and even a deficit of power to serve Salem and the surrounding region.

This criticism stems from the fact that I am supporting legislation that would expedite the approval process for the project, making sure the old plant is torn down in a timely fashion and the new plant developed in accordance with its obligations to our electric systems operators. I am guilty as charged for such support. But why I support such legislation has been distorted, and I feel it appropriate to respond with facts to dispel many of the myths that are being tossed around in conversation and in the media.

Myth: The repowering of Salem Harbor Station is not needed for reliability of the electric grid.

Fact: The Independent System Operator (ISO) for the New England Region has determined that there is a need for Salem Harbor Station. As The Salem News noted in its coverage, ISO declared in an August letter to the Department of Environmental Protection: “(The Conservation Law Foundation) claims that Footprint ‘is not necessary to ensure the continued supply of electricity to the region.’ CLF is simply wrong.” The reliability of the grid does not just mean power reliability for Salem, but also for the North Shore, Boston and the entire commonwealth.

Myth: The natural gas plant that Footprint is proposing is at odds with the commonwealth’s greenhouse gas reduction goals as set forth in the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA).

Fact: In order to implement the GWSA, the Patrick administration developed the “Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2020.” The plan allows for the construction of new, efficient, natural gas power plants in order to achieve our goals. Despite the outline in the plan, and conclusion by the state’s Siting Board that there is no doubt that the plant will result in an “overall trend of reduced (greenhouse gas) emissions,” CLF is advancing an appeal of the decision to the Supreme Judicial Court.

Myth: Any regional shortfall of electricity capacity in the area can be met with transmission upgrades that would be cheaper and less carbon intensive than the Salem Harbor facility.

Fact: Transmission alternatives would not be ready in time to prepare the grid for contingency events. Anyone paying attention to the National Grid cable replacement project in Salem realizes these are not necessarily simple upgrades. Additionally, transmission lines bring power from other sources of the grid, which means that these lines allow current generators throughout New England to generate more electricity. Since the average plant in New England emits significantly more carbon than the proposed Footprint facility, a transmission alternative to the power plant would actually result in higher carbon emissions than if the plant is built. Regarding cost, transmission companies pass the whole cost of constructing their lines to ratepayers. Footprint, however, recovers its cost from the energy markets, and studies have shown that the plant would decrease regional electricity prices by injecting more efficient power generation into the grid.

Myth: CLF is concerned about the citizens of Salem.

Fact: CLF fails to appreciate what real impacts retiring coal plants have on the host communities. For many communities, these power plants pay a large portion of annual taxes and water rates (to the tune of $4.75 million in tax revenue for Salem). Frankly, I do not think that CLF has a grasp on the reality of the scope of the clean up and remediation necessary for the site. And despite CLF’s assertion otherwise, our state’s environmental agency lacks the clear authority and/or resources to require the retired plant’s demolition.

CLF feels comfortable combating Footprint based solely on “environmental principles” — CLF has never proposed any concrete alternative plan or option should this natural gas plant not be built. Both the city and the state have tried to engage CLF in conversation to try to reach an agreement to afford CLF with something — anything — that might suffice to allow this project to proceed. Yet, the only response has been continued lawsuits.

Myth: The proposed power plant does not fit into Rep. Lori Ehrlich’s vision of a “clean energy commonwealth.”

Fact: Footprint’s gas plant will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the tune of the equivalent of taking more than 90,000 cars off the road annually (450,000 tons of carbon dioxide). That’s great for the environment. Ehrlich recently testified before the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee in support of a bill that she has filed this session: “An Act to Transition to a Clean Energy Commonwealth.” This bill calls for the state’s electrical generating facilities to lower their greenhouse gas emissions to a standard of 900 pounds per megawatt hour or lower. Interestingly enough, Footprint’s emission expectations will be, at the absolute maximum, 895 pounds per megawatt hour. This standard is below what Ehrlich feels is “environmentally acceptable” according to her legislation. Since the plant will meet her proposed standards, I do not yet fully understand her opposition to the project.

Myth: The gas bill provision is an attempt to circumvent regulatory oversight and appellate rights.

Fact: This project has broad local and state support. Mayor Driscoll, Sen. Lovely and I believe the project is in the best interests of the city. The plant received unanimous approval from the Salem Planning Board, the Salem Zoning Board of Appeal, the Salem Conservation Commission, the Salem City Council and the Energy Facilities Siting Board. The Department of Environmental Protection has issued Written Determination of Variance on Footprint’s Chapter 91 License, as well as a draft Comprehensive Air Plan Approval and Prevention of Significant Deterioration Permit.

The fact of the matter is: CLF’s arguments have been unsuccessful in each and every regulatory proceeding to date. This has led to CLF’s appeal of all decisions in hopes of dragging out the procedural process so that Footprint will not be able to construct the plant by June of 2016. I feel compelled as the state representative of Salem to do whatever I can to ensure this plant’s construction, not only for my city and my constituents, but so the commonwealth may avoid a serious threat to the reliability of the electric grid.

CLF says that it is “sad that Chairman Keenan has held hostage a gas leaks safety bill with a provision to help his district.” I think it is sad that CLF is holding the city of Salem hostage while it pursues a divisive litigation strategy. If CLF truly cared about the environmental safety and health of our commonwealth, it would be focusing its efforts on how to help communities like Salem, Somerset, Holyoke and others that are saddled with decommissioning power plants — instead, CLF has refused to engage us in any sort of productive manner. And that’s a shame.


Rep. John Keenan represents the City of Salem in the state House of Representatives. He has served as House Chairman of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy since 2011.