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A Swampscott Take on the New Salem Power Plant

The CEO of the company that plans to transform Salem Harbor Power Station recently touted its design at a North Shore breakfast forum. Lynn Nadeau of HealthLink says the plant's influence on Swampscott and other towns need to be scrutinized.

A Swampscott Take on the New Salem Power Plant A Swampscott Take on the New Salem Power Plant A Swampscott Take on the New Salem Power Plant

The natural gas plant slated to replace the coal-fired facility at Salem Harbor Power Station will be smaller, cleaner — and much better looking.

That's a summary of part of a wide-ranging presentation given by the CEO of the company that says it will transform the site into a mixed-use area that will not only power the region, but also provide berths for big cruise ships.

But Lynn Nadeau of HealthLink, a citizens action group that advocates for a cleaner environment, says the plant would bring Swampscott unseen and unwanted consequences.

Peter Furniss of  Footprint Power spoke to a capacity crowd of more than 200 at Tuesday morning's  North Shore Chamber of Commerce Executive Breakfast Forum.

He said the old coal-burning facility will be all but razed, then replaced on a much smaller scale by a gas-fired power plant. Much of the 65-acre plot would be available for uses other than the plant, which would take up only 22 acres. Toward the Blaney Street side, docks capable of accepting large cruise ships are envisioned. Between the plant and the adjoining sewerage facility, industrial uses are expected.

But Wait a Minute ...

Before the plan goes into effect and any large cruise shops pull into port the plan will need to be approved.

Nadeau says, "the owners of the Salem Harbor Station site present a spiffy, polished road show to North Shore communities, touting the architectural beauty of the plant they want to build and its fancy equipment to burn fossil fuel. Is there more to the project than the visual? What we don’t see, won’t see, is what we should worry about.  

First of all, we taxpayers in Massachusetts are subsidizing this plant by paying the tax payments to the city of Salem for 7 years and relieving Footprint of any obligation. In addition, at a recent task force meeting, the state is discussing picking up 70 percent of the cost of cleanup of the existing site. Sweetheart deal!"

CEO Espouses High-End Architect Offers Design

Furniss provided new details Tuesday morning, including much about the proposed design of the gas works. The new plant would have one smokestack in place of the current facility's three. And that stack would be less than half the height (230 feet) of the tallest existing one (492 feet).

The CEO also touted a design by architect Bob Fox, whose firm  designed the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park in New York City.

Furniss said Fox had studied the architecture of Salem in detail and proposes a plant that will echo features of the Federal style made famous by  Samuel McIntire. Detailed plans were not immediately available, but the photos accompanying this story give an idea of the proposal.

Berms would hide much of the lower parts of the facility. Vertical elements would draw the eye up and to the sky while horizontal elements would echo the clapboard construction widely seen in Salem.

"The design is with an eye to being respectful to the community," Furniss said.

Big Hurdles to Clear

The elegant architectural renderings won't ever become reality, however, if Footprint Power doesn't get state certification that Massachusetts needs the energy such a plant would produce. Furniss told the crowd he expects a decision to be announced in the next day or so on that important hurdle — termed an "auction" by regulators.

"If we clear this auction with an award, it will indicate a plant is needed and is needed quickly," Furniss said at the Chamber event, which was held at the DoubleTree Hotel in Danvers.

Winning that certification doesn't guarantee the project will ever be built either, though. Footprint Power must also convince the state that the project will provide "system-wide reductions in emissions and net economic benefit to Massachusetts," Furniss said, reading from a slide show he presented to the business group.

Nadeau Also Points to Permitting Hurdles

The gas plant proposed for Salem is by no means a fait accompli, she said. "There are many permitting hurdles to be overcome," she said:

"1. Are environmental safeguards being protected locally? According to Footprint, the emissions numbers, for the 30-40 years of the plant's life are: 

Nitrogen oxides – 158.6 tons per year 

Carbon monoxide – 214.1 tons per year 

Sulfur dioxide – 31.5 tons per year 

Particulate matter – 109.9 tons per year 

Ammonia – 56.0 tons per year

Carbon dioxide – 2.5 million tons per year

Since the existing coal plant will be closed and if there were no plant there, there would be no emissions, the emissions listed above are to be compared with zero emissions at the site. 

2. Footprint has not fully described its proposed path to connect a new pipeline to provide the fuel for the plant nor has it assessed the environmental impact on the harbor, the air, and surrounding communities.  The public has not been informed about how the hookup will be managed - horizontally under homes? 

3. The letter, and the spirit, of the Massachusetts Global Warming Solution Act are not being satisfied by the building of a new fossil fuel plant.  Massachusetts must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. During this time it is expected that dramatic changes will occur with respect to temperature, sea level, and storm frequency and intensity as a result of climate change. Nonetheless, Footprint has proposed to construct a new electric generating facility in a coastal location which will be particularly vulnerable to these effects of climate change.

4. How much water will be used for the plant? Does it come from the Ipswich River? 

5. As the federal government begins regulating the impact of fracking for gas and shale oil - the degraded water table, the radioactivity released, and chemicals injected into the earth to fracture the shale, how will stiffer regulations affect the price of gas and the viability of this plant? 

6. What guarantees is Footprint making vis-a-vis the final decommissioning and remediation at the end of this gas plant's life - in 30-40 years? 

It is clear to see the benefits of the new plant for its corporate owners; they plan to make a profit. It is also clear to see that the city of Salem will benefit from any assured tax payments (although currently the state is paying $4m/year to the City of Salem in lieu of the past and present owners of the property.) Certainly if Footprint demolishes the old coal plant and remediates the site, it is to the benefit of the city of Salem, its citizens, and its financial health. 

But what benefit is the plant to the people in neighboring communities? It adds more carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases to our already overheated planet. It encourages a squandering mentality rather than the move toward sustainability that we inheritors of the Puritans can exemplify"

Editor's Note: A portion of the above article appeared on Salem Patch. We asked Healthlink, a group which has advocated for surrounding communities in its opposition to the coal plant, to include their thoughts about the new plant proposal. We received Lynn Nadeau's comments in response to our Healthlink inquiry, and her comments are woven into the original account, as counterpoint.  

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