, Salem, MA


December 12, 2013

Watson: Power plant fight is about energy choices


The proposed gas plant may be Salem’s best chance to clean and redevelop a valuable parcel. And, under one set of assumptions, the new plant can be considered necessary for energy reliability. But do those circumstances constitute an emergency that warrants a sharp cut-off of normal appeals options? Could other plant proposals, once accepted by ISO for future connection to the grid, argue for the same protection from appeals?

This entire case is a very close call. Every participant — CLF, ISO, Footprint, Keenan, the city — has expressed important arguments and has advocated differing responsible actions.

In some sense, it is uncertainty itself — and a partial vacuum of planning — that every participant is responding to. But rather than revising democracy — Keenan’s proposal — to create certainty, it would be better to use democracy to sort out the uncertainties, that is, allow the normal disposition of CLF’s lawsuit to begin to clarify how (if at all) power plants, emissions goals, and reliability needs are going to be coordinated.

Making a transition to renewable energy will be difficult and messy and will require all individuals and institutions to push themselves beyond their status quo practices. If we protect Footprint from appeals, we are undermining some of the very hard work that remains to be done to sort out the still-unclear path toward a sustainable future.


Brian T. Watson is a Salem News columnist. Contact him at

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