Sensible Thoughts About the Proposed Salem MA Gas-Fired Power Plant

Feb 5, 2014 by  | Bio |  4 Comment »

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.

When Wall Street attacks – environmental edition

May 25, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A very smart man once told me to never spread criticism and attacks accidentally in the name of rebutting them.  But sometimes you just have to do it.

An odd item popped up in the tubes of the interwebs recently – an anonymous essay attributed only to the financial website called “” that (apparently) was never actually distributed on but rather was posted and distributed through the MSN Money personal finance and investing website.


Dominion takes next key step towards shutting down Salem Harbor Station power plant

Feb 17, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

(Photo credit: Marilyn Humphries)

One small step for man, one giant leap for coal–or lack thereof. Under pressure from public health groups, environmental organizations, political leaders and community members, Dominion Energy of Virginia has taken another important step toward closing Salem Harbor Station, its 60-year-old, coal-fired power plant in Salem, Massachusetts. Known as a “non-price retirement” request, the move represents an official request to the electric system operator, ISO New England, to allow the plant to shut down permanently.

Shanna Cleveland, staff attorney for Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), said, “Dominion’s actions put Salem Harbor Station on a path to shut down by 2014. Combined with its recent statements to shareholders that it doesn’t intend to invest any more capital in the plant, it is clear that Salem Harbor Station cannot operate profitably. The only issue remaining is whether the plant will shut down sooner than 2014. An unprofitable plant is still a polluting one, as long as it operates.” More >

The straight truth about the Salem Harbor Power Plant

Dec 1, 2010 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Before Lori Ehrlich was elected to the Massachusetts Legislature she was a committed local activist fighting to protect the health and environment of her family and community.  In fact, CLF’s journal, Conservation Matters, ran a profile of Lori describing her critical role in the advocacy around the Salem Harbor Power Plant back in 2003 under the title “Mother Grizzly from Marblehead” – a good five years before a similar phrase was employed on the national scene to describe a very different person.

Lori (now “Rep. Ehrlich”) continues in her role as the voice of reason and truth with regard to the Salem Harbor plant in an articulate op-ed in the Salem News in which she argues that by ignoring “unequivocal statement of closure” that the Salem News editorial voice is “‘shamefully out of sync with the plant owners and city elected officials who have begun to take important steps to accept and plan for the inevitable”.   Rep. Ehrlich notes that given Dominion’s own statements, the cost of keeping the plant limping forward and the planning for the future now underway that the time has come for collaborative problem solving, not finger pointing:

The ratepayer deserves better than the false choice of “plant or no plant.” Ratepayers have borne the burden of keeping this plant afloat for years and now are paying above-market rates to the tune of $20 million for the next two years to import and burn cheap coal here.

Dominion’s CFO made clear in his remarks at the Edison Electric Institute gathering that the company will not invest its dollars in this plant. Why should we invest ours? With a just transition, local businesses and tourism can be bolstered without ruining our health, killing workers and destroying our natural resources.

Private citizens and several brownfield developers are coming forward with creative and potentially lucrative development ideas. Any development will also enjoy the benefit of a 2002 $6-million cleanup of on-site contamination from unlined impoundment ponds. With a federally designated deepwater port, it’s not a stretch to imagine this 65-acre property hosting cruise ships or other types of maritime commerce.

There will no doubt be unique challenges transitioning this property. But it’s not the only coal plant in the country going by the wayside, just the oldest.

The Salem News and those naysayers who spend so much time and energy pointing out what cannot be done, need to change their tune and join Dominion, city and state leadership, and the air-breathing public, in imagining other possibilities.

Rep.  Ehrlich is doing what our leaders are supposed to do: she is leading. Specifically, she is leading us forward towards a cleaner and more prosperous future and is trying to do so in a manner that heals wounds, considers the values and needs of many communities and she is using honest, tough but civil language to build a real conversation about what needs to be done.

In Dominion's Own Words: Salem Harbor Will Shut Down Within Five Years

Nov 17, 2010 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Photo credit: Marilyn Humphries

It may come as no surprise that Dominion Energy ‘s spokespeople don’t want to admit that Dominion’s  recent moves to “delist” Salem Harbor Station are signs that Dominion plans to shut the plant down (read recent statements here and here).  Dominion has been spinning stories about the plant to local audiences for years.  But apparently, Dominion CFO Mark McGettrick has no such trouble. At a financial conference at the Edison Electric Institute on November 2, McGettrick confirmed that the plant will shut down within five years. “We have announced that two of our coal plants will shut down in the future when the environmental rules are clear. The first is Salem Harbor in the Northeast. We’ve already tried to delist a few of those units, but the ISO has required the two biggest ones for reliability. But in the near future, certainly within this five year horizon, we would expect Salem Harbor plant to shut down. We will not be investing any capital for environmental improvements at Salem Harbor.”* No mincing words for McGettrick.

So there you have it. Salem Harbor is going to shut down within five years.  Dominion says it will not invest any more money in environmental improvements at the plant. So, if ISO-NE continues to find the plant is needed for reliability, who will pay the price for those improvements? Ratepayers. Specifically, the ratepayers who live in the shadow of this plant in northeastern Massachusetts. That’s why ISO-NE must act now to find an alternative to Salem Harbor Station.  CLF has stepped in to ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to order ISO-NE to meet its responsibility, so that ratepayers can avoid these costs.  CLF will continue working to accelerate shutdown to prevent further damage to public health and the environment and to stop Dominion and ISO-NE from forcing ratepayers to prop up this polluting dinosaur of a plant that should have been closed years ago.

*Listen to the announcement via Google Finance
Clip can be found at 22:30