The straight truth about the Salem Harbor Power Plant

Seth Kaplan

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.

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