The editorial page of the Boston Globe today weighed in on the natural gas-fired power plant that a New Jersey–based company (Footprint Power) is seeking to build in Salem, Massachusetts.
The whole editorial is well worth reading – but the final three paragraphs are particularly striking:
Footprint CEO Peter Furniss says the plant will start off as a crucial supplier of electricity to New England’s often strained power grid, especially as the Vermont Yankee nuclear station and the Brayton Point coal plant come off line. But Furniss says the Footprint gas plant will eventually taper to a role of firming up energy supplies as more solar and wind sources come online under Massachusetts’ aggressive green-energy policies, which require an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. The state’s facilities siting board approved the plant last fall, saying it “contributes to a reliable, low-cost, diverse regional energy supply with minimal environmental impacts.” Energy and Environmental Affairs secretary Rick Sullivan says the plant is part of the “balancing act” of maintaining reliability while converting to a clean-energy future.
But some environmental watchdog groups don’t buy it. The Conservation Law Foundation has filed an appeal of the plant’s approval with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, arguing that the state is undermining its long-term emissions targets. The lawyers assert that regional CO2 emissions have already dropped close to the level of modern gas plants, meaning that adding another one does nothing but maintain the status quo. The CLF wants more proof that the plant will not derail the long-term goal of an 80 percent reduction by 2050.
As a mid-sized city seizing a rare chance to revitalize its waterfront, Salem is understandably eager to build the plant. The Patrick administration makes a plausible case for the need to get the plant online to assure that Massachusetts has enough power at peak periods. But the conservationists also make an important point: Today’s energy decisions must be viewed in terms of the fight to dramatically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. There should be a plan on paper for the plant to operate at levels that don’t impede the achievement of an 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050. Gas powers the economy for now, but the state must clear the way for a clean-energy future as soon as technologically feasible.
The editorial highlights two key points: 1) new energy infrastructure such as the proposed Footprint gas plant in Salem needs to be consistent with the objective of reducing global warming pollution 80% by 2050 and 2) CLF’s goal is to ensure that this requirement be respected in the permitting of the proposed power plant. We firmly believe that, as the editorial suggests, the legal requirement CLF is championing can be respected at the same time that the lights remain on and Salem builds a thriving economy. Indeed, this is exactly the kind of balancing act our whole society and economy will need to master again and again as we confront the crisis of global warming.
The issues addressed in the editorial are even more pertinent today as the State has, unfortunately, moved forward another tentative decision proposing to approve another permit needed by that power plant without considering the critical issue of climate and compliance with the Global Warming Solutions Act. That tentative decision is reported on the website of the Boston Business Journal accurately noting that “CLF views this Salem issue as an important test case for the viability of these relatively new greenhouse gas emissions rules.”
Indeed, in our statement about the decision our Massachusetts Office Director Sue Reid notes, “The rushed and flawed approvals process for the Footprint Power Plant threatens the progress Massachusetts has made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Not only are the state agencies denying the public the thorough vetting that a major new fossil fuel power plant like this deserves, the Patrick Administration is setting a terrible precedent for how similar projects are addressed—fast-tracking a major new source of greenhouse gas emissions while acting in violation of federal and state law.