Footprint's Power Plant Intentions Create Discussion

For or against — was your air conditioner running this weekend?


The most prominent landmark in Salem is the 500-foot tall smoke stack at the . That has been true since before I was born.

As a small boy, three smaller stacks dominated the skyline. They created an optical illusion as you came up Derby Street. Each one in turn looked taller even though each stood 300 feet tall.

My main memory of the power plant and its various stacks is of the dark clouds of smoke and steam that they belched on cold winter mornings. Those emissions would oftentimes, depending on the wind direction, result in layers of black soot on the windowsills at home. My mother would open the windows to a chilling blast of winter air so she could clean the soot from the sills.

Salem and its surrounding communities have dealt with the many minor issues that the plant has produced for 60 years. We have also dealt with more serious issues. No matter your position on the plant, you cannot deny that there are health-related issues as a result of its daily operations.

Many would deny their own culpability in these health issues. We all heat our homes in the winter and cool them in the summer with generated power of one sort or another. That power has to be generated somewhere. Wishing the plant away will not make all of the pollution generated issues go away — not while we all continue to drive motor vehicles that also use the same fossil fuels we complain about.

There is no doubt that we would have a more attractive and healthy community if the 65 acres of property the plant uses were cleaned up and put to some other, non-industrial use. A marina, a large park — almost anything would be an improvement. 

There is nothing wrong with dreaming. We all dream and we all wish to fulfill our dreams. 

Practical matters are what are important here. All of the ideas, conceptual drawings and good intentions cannot outweigh the reality of the situation. That reality was presented to us years ago when those in power made the decision to use our waterfront for commercial and industrial purposes. As a result, we have become home to entities that other North Shore communities are fortunate not to host. The power plant and the sewerage treatment plant are the most obvious examples.

No entity has stepped forward with a practical, financed plan for that property that does not involve a power generating facility. None is likely to come forward any time soon. 

to raze the current plant and build a new natural gas facility, while certainly not the ideal solution, is the realistic one.

Footprint Power, in its own literature, states its mission is to use its "resources and expertise to acquire these assets and remove their associated environmental liabilities from the books of the current owners." They also speak of their ability to work with municipal, state, and federal entities and regulations "in order to meet public needs." You can parse those words any way you choose. When all is said and done, we will be better off than we are now.

I would rather the land be put to other use, but being a practical man I realize that is not going to happen.

Those of you in Salem and other North Shore communities who stand so strongly against the Footprint plan and the power plant in general have my respect. You also have my curiosity.

How many of you had your air conditioners cranking all weekend while you were out doing your thing in the SUV?

windpower July 02, 2012 at 12:07 PM
William ; Well said . Can we trust a group of lawyers form N.J. ? They have never operated,, built ,repaired ,or removed a power plant . To my knowledge they just push paper around . Your point of them using their expertise and resources to remove environmental liabilities scares me . And no one has yet to address the $200.000 study that flat out states a power plant of any type is not feasible at this site . Your statement that they will raze the existing plant may be in error . Word I have is they build the new plant and then "possibly " remove the old one . Ideally we would have no plant there ,I agree with you that one should be there ,but be carefull how it is done . Related note . I meet with a couple just this week that were agressivly hunting for a house in Salem .When this news broke ,they took their hunting elsewhere .
Stan Sokol July 02, 2012 at 12:58 PM
I was also troubled by the obfuscation in the new owner's statement, and I read the same implication into it. It must be made clear to the new owners that they can't build anything on the site until they demolish the old plant and clean up the site. Completely. We should be asking "what EXACTLY is the deal Footprint made with Dominion about who's paying for the site clean up and how much clean up is planned?"
James R. Willis Jr. July 02, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Despite the consultant's beautiful pictures last year of tree-lined terraces amid a beautiful harborside neighborhood, there are only so many suitors for a site used for decades for dirty power and abutting a sewage treatment facility. There are a couple problems here though- 1) As Windpower noted, Footprint has never actually accomplished anything, for all intents and purposes they are a paper company. 2) How much control do they city and state actually have over the site during permitting? Can we actually require a cleanup of the site? and 3) Do we have the ability to have Footprint at least match the payments that Dominion had been making each year?
William Legault July 02, 2012 at 03:52 PM
I think this will be a true test of city government (not just Salem's) and what ability they truly have to control any aspects situation like this. My hopeful optimism for the Footprint plans just may be wishful thinking, but it would seem that are no other real options.
Stan Sokol July 02, 2012 at 06:13 PM
Electric ratepayers paid for the future clean-up of the site for decades through their utility bills until electricity rate setting was replaced about 10 years ago. The Rate Setting Commission's files must still exist, and the files will show that all the former owners included decommissioning and clean-up as a cost of generation, and that cost was passed on to utility customers in their bills. We've paid for the clean-up (probably several times over), and we can't let Dominion or Footprint wash their hands of the mess and pocket the money. Moreover, Footprint knows from the due dilligence they performed BEFORE making the deal with Dominion what the clean-up will cost based on the possible clean-up scenarios from little to complete. You have to be quite naive to thinkFootprint made a deal not anticipationg the most expensive liability and that Footprint isn't hoping it can find a way got get away with the least liability. I think it's possible Footprint (which has never built a power plant) has no intention of building anything on the site itself and its "game plan" is only to "remove their (Dominion's) associated environmental liabilities from the books of the current owners" and then sell the property. So, let's see the entire Footprint/Dominion agreement, not just the spin Footprint is putting on it.
Joel July 02, 2012 at 06:21 PM
William - thoughtful article, but in addition to the questions posed above, I'm questioning the 'air conditioner' statement. I think it's important to get an official statement from ISO-NE on the needs of the power grid first before assuming that plant shut-down = Salem's lights switching off (or fans winding down). It's also worth investigating what packages of renewable energy and energy efficiency in Salem, and existing plants elsewhere, would power the city. Looking to the economy: the prime waterfront property could be used for all sorts of dollar-and-job-generating operations - ones with greater public benefit than a public health hazard. Of course, it's possible that the property could be revived with a plant AND new development. Again, do appreciate your well-crafted thoughts. Just sharing my two cents.
Richard July 02, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Footprint really do just seem to be a paper company. Even their address is one of those fake "virtual offices". For $79 a month you get to use the address - for a bit more you can use the office space a few hours a month. If they really intend to build the 700Mw plant that they've proposed they are going to need to find someone to lend about 700 million to a company with no track record, no collateral and no real office or employees. Somehow that seems not so likely. I'm starting to think that when the city began discussing expensive plans for remediation, Dominion decided that they needed a way out of the liability, and Footprint provided one for them. I think that might just be the entire game plan for them.
john July 02, 2012 at 09:31 PM
Don't trust the city???????
d July 02, 2012 at 10:34 PM
The city should prevent this deal unless Footprint provides a bonded guarantee of projected cleanup costs and tax revenue.
Stan Sokol July 02, 2012 at 10:46 PM
I think the Mayor is getting hosed. I've seen Footprint's website. It's not a power generating company. In its own words, "we have developed a proprietary model for capturing the remaining value of the plant while moving the bulk of the environmental liabilities off of the owner’s books." "Propriatory model" means "we won't tell you anything." Footprint is the 2012 version of an 1980's aluminum siding company. (See Tin Men) We ain't that f-ing stupid. Hopefully.
Richard July 02, 2012 at 11:11 PM
> Don't trust the city??????? I think the only part that the city cared about was that (according to the Globe) Footprint promised they'd pay "close to" what Dominion was paying once "the plant is up and running". Of course, they didn't say what they'd pay if the plant wasn't up and running.
William Legault July 02, 2012 at 11:18 PM
Very harsh commentary here by a few, but completely understandable in view of what has been presented by all sides.
michael beaulieu July 02, 2012 at 11:23 PM
Why? This is 65 acres of PRIVATE property.
john July 02, 2012 at 11:37 PM
The city has very little control on this. Salem can't even control issues at the North St gas station.
ken July 03, 2012 at 11:03 PM
Whoever owns the site will always be responsible for the clean-up. No one is going to buy any part of it without knowing about the liability that they are taking on. Someone has agreed to buy it. Meanwhile, the city is doing cartwheels thinking about less pollution and added tax revenues that will come from any future development, instead of no taxes coming from an abandoned superfund site on the harbor. For the city to prevent this deal would be a rather large mistake, imho.
d July 04, 2012 at 03:34 AM
ken, if Footprint turns out to be a shell, where does that leave the city?
chester suchecki July 06, 2012 at 09:30 PM
watch out snookie and family is moving to 24 fort avenue in her new spacious waterfront property


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