, Salem, MA


December 12, 2013

Watson: Power plant fight is about energy choices

The most recent developments surrounding the anticipated closing of Salem Harbor Station — and its replacement with a new gas power plant — have generated controversy, raised many difficult questions and posed some difficult choices.

The existing plant, a 61-year-old, 745-megawatt, oil-and-gas-fired power generator, is scheduled to stop producing electricity in May of 2014. A New Jersey-based company, Footprint Power, purchased the plant in 2012 and since then (and before) has been engaged in the process of gaining approvals for a new 674-watt (at certain conditions) gas plant.

Footprint has already received the majority of the approvals that it will need to proceed, and construction on the new facility is scheduled to begin this February. It would be ready to run by June 2016.

That the old plant had become obsolete was a mixed blessing for Salem. The city will lose its jobs and the substantial tax payments that it made every year. On the plus side, though, removal of the plant — currently part of Footprint’s plan — opens up the site for all sorts of marine-related development. Additionally, reducing carbon dioxide and other chemical emissions — coal is the worst fuel in this regard — improves Salem’s and the region’s air quality. And reducing CO2 emissions helps against global warming.

So there is plenty of ambivalence on the part of many regarding the new power plant proposal. We’re finally getting rid of one polluting, sprawling, somewhat-incongruously-located dinosaur, yes, but in exchange for yet another 45-year-lifespan power plant. Admittedly, the new plant will be smaller, visually better, state-of-the-art, and emit half the CO2 of coal, but it may be noisy, it still burns fossil fuel, and it’ll still inhibit somewhat the uses to which the rest of the site can be put.

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