SALEM — Enjoying refuge from the rain under a large tent, Footprint Power CEO Peter Furniss said the Salem Harbor Station’s construction started in January, “but we waited until now for the groundbreaking ceremony so we could give you some good weather.”
“So much for that,” he added, as more than 200 supporters and business partners broke into laughter.
The natural gas-fired power plant, set to come online two years from now, held its groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday morning. The event was attended by financial partners, union representatives, elected officials and several others who left their handprints on the project at some point.
“If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a commonwealth to build a power plant,” said Scott Silverstein, Footprint’s president and chief executive officer. “There’s no better evidence to that fact than those of you who are gathered here today.”
The estimated $1 billion power plant is still in its earliest construction phases. Demolition of the old coal-fired plant is still ongoing and expected to continue throughout this year.
Several more convoys of trucks are expected to haul concrete to the site to pour more foundations. The next hundred-truck delivery of concrete is expected in the next couple weeks, Silverstein said.
But Tuesday was about recognizing what it took to break ground in the first place, not to mention what the station will bring once it’s online.
“If I had to use one word to describe today, this project, it’d be ‘transformational,’” said Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll. “It means so much to our community going forward. It offers a cleaner, greener, more efficient, necessary power supply to our community and our region.”
No. 1 taxpayer
Salem Harbor Station will also bring a lot of tax revenue to the city.
“It will continue to be our No. 1 taxpayer, sustaining this community for several more decades,” the mayor said. “It offers an opportunity for incredible public access along the waterfront, an additional 25 acres of redevelopment on the second-deepest natural water port in the commonwealth. That’s unheard of.”
The groundbreaking also served as an opportunity to recognize partnerships, with financial partner Highstar Capital recognized among several investors.
Though he declined to provide specific dollar amounts, Highstar title partner Drew Nevin said the company has contributed 87.5 percent of the money, representing ownership of the power plant going forward.
Salem, he said, proved to be an excellent partner in making Footprint Power a reality.
“We’ve learned over the years that support from local communities with broader regulatory political constituencies are absolutely critical in making a project a success,” Nevin said. “We absolutely wouldn’t be here today if not for the abundance of support exhibited by the community here in Salem, by Mayor Driscoll’s office and by the state.”
State Rep. Paul Tucker said he was excited about the Footprint construction.
“Being someone from Salem who’s driven by this plant thousands of times, I’m excited about the future here as well,” Tucker said. “It shouldn’t be lost that when environmental groups, unions, labor, business, government — when everybody comes together, there’s no hurdle too high we can’t get over.”
Upcoming ‘big days’
The station is still on schedule to “flip the switch” and come online June 1, 2017, Silverstein said.
The station’s final smokestack is set to come down this summer and fall, as is the rest of the old coal-fired plant, Silverstein said. By then, he said, all of the foundations will be poured and massive equipment shipments will start coming in by sea.
Each delivery and phase of work represents another milestone in the project — of which Silverstein said the groundbreaking was a major one.
“Every pile they drive, every concrete pour where we get the trucks through the streets and try not to disrupt our neighbors to extent that we can, every one of those is big,” he said.
“The day the turbines come in will be a big day. There will be a series of big days. Then, you have the ultimate big day.”
For more on this story or other story-related inquiries, email Salem reporter Dustin Luca at email@example.com, call 978-338-2523 or message @DustinLucaSN on Twitter.