Deal to sell Salem power plant closes; new gas plant and development planned

A New Jersey company said Monday that it has finalized its purchase of the aging Salem Harbor Power Station, which it plans to replace with a state-of-the-art gas-fired plant on a portion the site, potentially opening the rest of the waterfront property to commercial development.

Footprint Power LLC said the deal to buy the decades-old plant from Virginia-based Dominion Energy Inc. for an undisclosed sum closed Saturday.

Footprint Footprint has contracted with NAES Corp. of Issaquah, Wash. to operate the existing coal- and oil-fired plant until May 2014, when it will demolish the facility and begin the environmental cleanup of the site. The company also said it has begun the permitting process for its planned 630 megawatt gas-fired plant, which will eventually occupy about one third of the current site.

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“By demolishing the existing facility ... and scaling back power generation to a small portion of the site, we look forward to the residents of Salem having access to their waterfront for the first time in generations,” Footprint president Scott Silverstein said in a statement.

The Salem Harbor plant was scheduled to be shut down in 2014 as the plant’s age and tightening clean air regulation made it less economical to run, according to Dominion. Footprint’s acquisition was welcomed by Salem officials, who have worried about the future of the site and the loss of tax revenues once the plant, one of the city’s biggest taxpayers, closed.

Salem officials have expressed hope that the deal will boost the local economy by opening the 63-acre site to development, including the possibility of a cruise ship terminal at the plant’s commercial pier.

“This is an opportunity in Salem that could be transformational for us,” said Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll. “We’re very excited about getting better access to the waterfront and having a smaller industrial footprint on the site.”

More than 100 workers are employed at the plant. After the facility closes in 2014, Footprint says it will employ some of the plant’s workers to help clean up the site.

James Simpson, the business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 326, which represent many of the workers at the plant said the closing of the deal is “absolutely news that we welcome.”

“Both Footprint and NAES have been extremely cooperative and considerate of the employees there,” said Simpson, “and I have their word that they will continue to work with the union on training so people will be able to transition when the plant closes.”