Salem, Mass., city and business leaders, local legislators, environmental advocates and state officials have worked for years to figure out how best to replace the coal-and-oil burning plant at Salem Harbor Station. The result is a widely supported plan that protects tax revenue, opens a large swath of waterfront to its citizens, helps ensure a steady source of energy for the entire region and, most importantly, represents a huge step forward for the environment.
This is what the Conservation Law Foundation wants to kill.
In recent weeks the CLF has used a series of legal appeals to slow the approval process for the new plant (which has made it past every major regulatory obstacle so far). Delay the project long enough, and the funding for the new plant will fall through, leaving the city holding the coal-dust-streaked bag.
State Rep. John Keenan has been criticized in some corners for his response to CLF’s tactics, including his move to add language he said would end “frivolous appeals likely to halt the plant’s timely development” to an unrelated gas leak bill making its way through the Legislature.
Keenan’s amendment won’t win him any friends in Marblehead (whose representative, Lori Ehrlich, is the author of the gas leak bill and an opponent of a power plant in Salem) but it underlines how high the stakes are for Salem and the region at large.
Footprint Power of New Jersey bought the 65-acre site last year and will shut down the current coal-and-oil burning plant there by May. The hope is to open its $800 million, 692-megawatt natural gas plant by June 0f 2016.
The bulk of the resistance to the new plant centers around the use of natural gas. Shouldn’t we be moving away from fossil fuels, toward greener sources of energy?
While we would all love to be able to rely on renewable energy for most of our power needs, that is not the current reality. We are decades away from a time when wind, solar and thermal power can meet our energy needs. (And renewable energy has its own set of controversies, as witnessed by the fight over the proposed Cape Wind project off Cape Cod.)
ISO New England Inc., manager of the New England power grid, took issue with CLF’s assertion that the region could get by without the plant by relying on transmission upgrades and other “tools.”
“CLF is simply wrong,” ISO lawyers wrote in an Aug. 9 letter to the state Department of Environmental Protection. “Without Footprint, there would be a shortage of capacity in the (Northeastern Massachusetts/Boston) capacity zone for the 2016 through the 2017 commitment period.”
ISO went on to call Footprint “both the only choice and the best choice” to meet the region’s power needs.
The Footprint project is also the best plan – by far – for the taxpayers of Salem, where the property has accounted for a large portion of the tax base. It keeps payments coming in a opens up a large swath of the waterfront for marine-related development, including use as a port of call for cruise ships.
The Footprint plan also calls for the removal of the old plant and a complete clean up of the site. For that reason alone, the project would be a significant step forward environmentally.
Despite what the CLF, the self-appointed arbiters of environmental policy, would have us think, the opposition to the Footprint plan and natural gas in general is not unanimous among environmentalists.
The Salem Alliance for the Environment, meanwhile, has supported the plan, saying in a letter to the editor that it is in line with a move toward renewable energy.
“One viable path toward a lower-carbon future is to use high-efficiency, combined-cycle gas plants like the one being proposed in Salem,” SAFE co-chairs Jeff Barz-Snell and Patricia Gozemba wrote. “This technology allows for the rapid increase or decrease in power production at any given moment and, therefore, is an ideal facility to be paired with wind and solar farms, whose generation is intermittent and constantly changes.”
The Conservation Law Foundation should be touting this project as a success, not trying to kill it.