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Court settlement mandates Salem power plant to stop burning coal by 2014

Posted by Justin Rice  February 7, 2012 12:12 PM

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After 2014, Salem Harbor Station will never burn coal again.

Dominion Energy Inc., the current owner of the power plant, reached a settlement yesterday in a federal lawsuit with the Conservation Law Foundation and North Shore-based HealthLink. 

The agreement states that the plant can’t burn coal after 2014, the year Dominion was planning on shutting down the power plant anyway.  Any potential buyer of the plant would also be unable to burn coal at the facility, according to the agreement.

The two environmental groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in 2010 that alleged the 60-year-old coal-fired power plant violated the Clean Air Act more than 300 times in a five-year span.

While those allegations were dismissed in yesterday’s settlement, Dominion will provide funding of $275,000 for a supplemental environmental project to be implemented in Salem and at least two adjacent cities and towns, including but not limited to Beverly, Manchester-by-the Sea and Marblehead. Those projects have to be geared toward improving air quality and reducing electricity demand in the region.

The settlement ends a 20-year campaign to close Salem Harbor Station.

 “This outcome sends a signal to coal plant operators everywhere that they cannot avoid costs through noncompliance with the Clean Air Act,” Jonathan Peress, vice president and director of Conservation Law Foundation’s Clean Energy and Climate Change program, said in a statement released today.

“These obsolete plants that either have decided not to invest in technology upgrades or are retrofitting at ratepayers’ expense are doomed: they are staring down the barrel of cheaper and cleaner alternatives to their dirty power and public and regulatory pressure to safeguard human health. When these plants can no longer get away with breaking the law as a way to stave off economic collapse, I predict we will see a wave of shutdowns across the country.”

The settlement allows for Dominion or a purchaser or successor of the plant to seek to re-power Salem Harbor Power Station or construct a new electric generating unit not fueled by coal.

In fact, the settlement comes the week after a New Jersey company, Footprint Power, announced it is seeking to convert the plant into a natural gas facility.

Dominion will also pay the Conservation Law Foundation attorney fees of $100,000, and Dominion has also agreed to remove two units from service in the plant by the end of the year.  The other two units have to be shut down by 2014.

“The settlement among Dominion and the environmental organizations dismisses the opacity allegations and sets a path forward for Salem based on our previously announced plans to close the power station in June 2014,” Dominion spokesman Jim Norvelle said in a statement.

The lawsuits were filed after residents complained and took pictures to document excessive steam coming out of the power plant’s smokestacks.

“The lawsuit is a perfect example of the power of public opinion combined with great legal work forcing change,” Jane Bright of HealthLink said in a statement. “Community members pushed to understand the health and financial consequences of inhaling pollution daily and demanded action. We are proud and relieved that our efforts have begun the end of the era of illness-causing coal in Salem and look forward to breathing easier in this community and for miles around.”


Justin A. Rice can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com.

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