Footprint, a New Jersey-based startup, plans to demolish the 61-year old coal plant, remediate the area and construct a new natural gas plant. The new plant is expected to take up about one-third of the 65-acre site - which would allow for commercial development on the remainder of the land - and reduce the power output from 748 megawatts to about 630 megawatts.
Officials from Footprint said in a press release that the new plant could begin supplying energy to the region in 2016.
Dominion has already taken two of the plant's units out of service, and Footprint will continue to operate the other two until the scheduled shutdown date of June 1, 2014. No energy will be produced at the site during the two years between the shutdown of the current plant and the start up of the new plant, which is when demolition, site remediation and construction of the new plant will take place.
"By demolishing the existing facility when the remaining units are removed from service, remediating the site, 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," Scott Silverstein, Footprint's president and COO, said in a statement announcing the purchase.
The future of the site has been a much debated issue among city officials, area residents and environmentalists for years, and Footprint's plans have brought mixed reactions.
Pat Gozemba, co-chair of Salem Alliance for the Environment (SAFE), supports Mayor Kim Driscoll's view that Footprint's proposal is the most economically viable option for the site - which comes with an estimated $50 to $75 million cleanup cost . Gozemba welcomes the possibility of developing the waterfront area.
"We are in favor of the natural gas there, because we do believe it's going to open up options for the harbor front," Gozemba said, speaking on behalf of the organization. "Now we just kind of have a fenced off 63 acres there that none of us can go near, and we believe that Footprint's pledge to remediate is going to turn around that large piece of property on Salem's harbor."
Gozemba sat on a committee assembled by Driscoll to dig through the site re-use study - commissioned by the city of Salem and released in January - to try to find options for the future use of the site, and says the experience is what gave her a favorable view of the natural gas option.
But other environmentalists do not share Gozemba's view. A number of groups, two of the most outspoken being 350 Massachusetts and HealthLink, have been publicly opposed to any type of fossil fuel plant on the site in the past. Neither group returned calls for comment.
Footprint plans to schedule public meetings to discuss its development plans. One issue Gozemba believes will become hotly debated in these forums is a diesel backup system that she says ISO New England - a company that oversees electricity supply and demand throughout the region - is trying to implement at the future gas plant.
ISO spokeswoman Marcia Blomberg would not confirm or deny the claim.
"We told Footprint from the beginning that we did not want diesel there and Footprint said that they did not want diesel there, but that ISO was requiring them to do that," Gozemba said.
"That's going to be a point of contention, and that will be something that we struggle about."
Carole Brennan, a spokeswoman for Footprint, confirmed that the company is also against using diesel fuel for backup.
"Footprint is listening to the community as much as it can on a lot of things, and the community is against continuing to burn diesel," Brennan said. "So Footprint is trying to take that concern into consideration."
Ryan Mooney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.