Friday, July 1, 2011

The Power Plant Reuse Study Public Meeting

I attended the public meeting about the power plant reuse study last night. I have to say, I probably have to either stop writing this blog or stop going to these types of meetings. I was swimming in my own personal shark tank.

Lisa Abbate was there. She's still trying to push the myth that Dominion is required by law to clean the site, even if they padlock it. Teasie Riley-Goggin was there. She was the first citizen to speak, but I think those in attendance are still trying to figure out what she was saying. I'm not sure it made any sense. The mayor was there. Jim Fleming was there. Councilor McCarthy was there. He mostly just listened. (A first!) Councilor Joan Lovely was present as well. I think she praised the mayor for having the foresight to get this off the ground before anyone knew for sure that the plant was closing. Lori Ehrlich was there. She made sure to be the final speaker, so she'd have the last word. Finally, about 20 minutes into the meeting councilor Pinto strolled in.

City Council candidate Darek Barcikowski was also present. He just joined twitter so give him a follow. I don't think I've done anything to piss him off yet. I even intend to try his place some time soon. It's good to see at least one of the candidates who wants to join the ranks of the elected showing up at things like this. If there were others (not counting 12th councilor Teasie, of course) I didn't see them.

The presentation last was slightly tweaked from the HDSNA meeting, mostly to make it a little more concise. The general purpose of the meeting was a little more interactive. At the Derby meeting, it was, we're going to make a presentation. If we have time for questions we'll let you ask some. This was much more, "we want to hear your thoughts."
The single biggest news revealed at the meeting was that National Grid apparently notified ISO-NE yesterday that they've found a way to do the work necessary to not need any power from Salem Harbor Station and have it done by the June 30, 2014 date that Dominion has stated that they'll cease to operate. They estimate the cost of the work at 60 million dollars. Previously they were saying they'd need five to nine years, and hundreds of millions of dollars to make the necessary transmission upgrades. This is big news, and allows the study group to focus further away from power generation. Unfortunately, the Salem Patch reporter waltzed in about half an hour into the meeting, after the breaking news was announced. He also forgot to shut off the ringer on his phone which rang for about the first 30 seconds he was in his seat. He couldn't find it in his pocket. Because of his tardiness, you won't read about this development in the Patch article on the meeting.

There were many who clamored for a green energy component on the site, but I'm not sure that it really makes sense. If you filled the entire site with wind turbines, you'd get 10 Megawatts of power. If you filled the entire site with solar, you'd get 11. (I may have those two numbers reversed, but you get the idea.) The current plant capacity is around 745 megawatts. A loud majority opposed gas power on the site, while a quiet minority (I'll include myself) seemed to realize that it was the only economically viable option for power generation on the site. I say if power generation is not needed, skip it entirely. It was revealed that a peaker facility (one that only operates during high, high demand) was determined to not be economically viable for the site.

Pat Gozemba, of SAFE volunteered all of us to each pay an extra $500 a year in property taxes (not per month, as Patch originally reported) if the city were to acquire the land and do something nice with it, like make it a park. The truth is, $500 probably isn't nearly enough for that. Cleanup and demo costs are estimated at possibly as high as 170 million dollars. That's roughly $4250 for every man, woman, and child in Salem. That doesn't include building anything on the site. The city shouldn't be trying to end up owning this land. We don't do a good job of taking care of our public property, let's not add a parcel as big as the downtown business district to it.

The mood was generally cautiously optimistic. The most somber advice probably came from Red Simpson, who works for the IBEW local that represents the plant workers. He painted an extremely bleak picture of Dominion's commitment to it's own workers in Salem, never mind the city itself. He stated that Dominion couldn't care less about Salem, and will absolutely do whatever is best for Dominion. He also doesn't believe that National Grid is accurate when it says that they can have fixes in place by June 2014. He should know, he represents those guys too.

The other big fear expressed by many, and I feel it too, is that Dominion could just shut the place down, padlock it, and walk away. The city would have little recourse to stop it. I think the city should look into "blight" ordinances now, where you're fined a certain amount for leaving abandoned properties, and base the amount of the fine on the square footage of the lot. Make it much more expensive to leave it sitting. Legal and feasible? Maybe, maybe not. We're silly not to look into it.

I took issue with one other part of the Patch piece. It stated:

The consultants suggested that the site probably should be developed with a mixture of marine industrial uses such as boat maintenance and storage, some office and commercial uses, some residential housing and possibly a higher education research facility like Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

I'm sorry Patch, but the consultants suggested no such thing. The consultants haven't made any suggestions yet. They are not to that phase in the study. They are looking at what may or may not be feasible. They don't expect to have recommendations for several more months. It's true that they've studied all of those uses, but no mix has been suggested. I'm pretty certain you'll never hear them say that "the site probably should be developed" with a (non-profit) higher ed research facility.

Overall, it really seems to me like the study group is on the right track. They've identified the challenges the site faces, both environmentally, and legally, they've studied the surrounding area, and acknowledged the challenges the placement of the land presents, and they've started soliciting feedback from the community about what legal uses they'd prefer to see in the area. It's extremely wise to be looking at this issue now, rather than putting it off. Having attended two meetings with this group, I believe we're in good hands, and are ahead of the issue.


  1. I am so glad you go to these meetings and report on them here. It is always good to be reassured that I was right not to go myself!

    Keep up the good work, G!

  2. Holy shit LOL!!!!
    "Unfortunately, the Salem Patch reporter waltzed in about half an hour into the meeting, after the breaking news was announced. He also forgot to shut off the ringer on his phone which rang for about the first 30 seconds he was in his seat. He couldn't find it in his pocket. Because of his tardiness, you won't read about this development in the Patch article on the meeting."

    Oh that was #Klassy!

  3. I'm glad you report on these things, since all other coverage is grievously lacking. Thank you!!!


Don't forget, keep it klassy!