Salem Harbor Station

The history of Salem Harbor Station is long and tortured. Located on what was once a popular swimming spot, the coal-fired power plant began operating in 1952 and added two additional coal boilers in 1958 and an oil unit in 1972. In 1997, residents in surrounding communities discovered that ash from the plant had contaminated Wenham Lake, a nearby drinking water reservoir, and shortly afterwards, CLF entered an agreement with the owners of both Salem Harbor Station and Brayton Point to clean up their coal ash lagoons. In 2003, then Governor Romney stood in front of the plant and said that the plant was killing people. In 2007, a terrible tragedy struck when corrosion at one of the aging boilers resulted in an explosion that killed three workers. Despite this legacy of death and pollution, Salem Harbor Station continued burning coal. It’s time for that to change.

In February 2012, as the result of a citizen’s suit for violations of the Clean Air Act, CLF and HealthLink secured an order from the US District Court in Massachusetts approving a consent decree that requires Salem Harbor power plant owner Dominion to shut down Units 1 and 2 by December 31, 2011 and Units 3 and 4 by June 1, 2014. The settlement also prohibits Dominion, or any future owner from ever burning coal at the site, and created a fund of $275,000 to support projects in the Salem area that would decrease air pollution. Salem, Lynn and Peabody have all benefited from the fund.  

CLF and HealthLink, along with numerous other environmental and community organizations, public health advocates and political leaders, have campaigned for decades to end Salem Harbor Station’s polluting legacy on the North Shore of Massachusetts. During that time, CLF has fought multiple successful legal and policy battles to curb water and air pollution from the power plant, one of Massachusetts’ so-called “Filthy Five.” At the same time, CLF has leveraged its role as a participant in the New England energy markets to advocate for regional system planning that will hasten New England’s transition to clean, renewable energy.

From 2009 through 2011, as the economic viability of old coal plants began to erode in the face of low natural gas prices and reduced electric demand, CLF mounted a two-pronged legal assault on Salem Harbor Station: one, a federal lawsuit against plant owner Dominion for repeated violations of the Clean Air Act and the other, a protest at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to end the plant’s reliance on ratepayer subsidies stemming from insufficient planning for reliability. In a landmark decision, FERC required ISO-New England, the regional system operator, to identify a solution to resolve the need for Salem Harbor Station.  On May 10, 2010, ISO-NE presented that plan, and the next day, Dominion announced it would shut down the plant by 2014. CLF and HealthLink’s 2010 Clean Air Act citizen suit secured an enforceable commitment from Dominion to shut down Units 1 and 2 by 2012 and Units 3 and 4 by June 2014 and to never burn coal on the Salem Harbor site again.

Shanna Cleveland, staff attorney at CLF, says, “The very factors that had been propping Salem Harbor Station up for years beyond its useful life – cheap coal, lax environmental oversight, and inadequate reliability planning – have been pulled out from under it. Aided by a strong, sustained push over 20 years by the surrounding community, this old, polluting killer is finally going to come tumbling down. CLF, along with HealthLink and our many allies in bringing about this outcome, is looking forward to a healthier future for Salem.”