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May 2, 2013

Power plant review to start

Public hearing tonight begins approval process for natural gas proposal

SALEM — The approval process begins tonight for one of the largest construction proposal on the North Shore in decades.

The Salem Planning Board will open a public hearing tonight on Footprint Power’s request to build an $800 million natural gas power plant on the Salem waterfront at the site of Salem Harbor Station. The review is expected to take several months.

The 7 p.m. meeting will be held at Bentley School to accommodate the large crowd that is expected.

“We want to make sure everybody who is interested is able to attend,” City Planner Lynn Duncan said.

The former coal and oil-fired Salem Harbor Station, which is slated to close next year and will be demolished, had spurred a number of environmental concerns, including from residents in the town of Manchester, who grew increasingly concerned over the plant’s emissions and could see the facility clearly from across the water.

Over the next few months, Footprint will file plans with the Conservation Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals, which also must approve the 670-megawatt plant.

This local review is only a small part of a complex and daunting approval process.

Footprint has filed with the state Energy Facilities Siting Board, a nine-member review panel, and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. It also needs approvals from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The siting board held hearings this winter and is accepting briefs, or written comments, from interested parties. A decision is expected this summer.

At the same time, Footprint is in talks with Spectra Energy, which owns and operates the offshore gas pipeline that runs from Beverly to the South Shore, and is tied into the Neptune pipeline and LNG terminal off Gloucester.

Hanging over all of this is Footprint’s quest for funding.

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