State energy officials Thursday gave their final approval for construction of a new natural gas power plant in Salem to replace a 63-year-old coal- and oil-fired facility scheduled for retirement this summer.
The approval came just two days after the New Jersey company building the plant agreed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions annually to meet requirements of a state law aimed at combating climate change. Footprint Power LLC, the plant’s developer, also agreed to shutter the facility by 2050.
The agreement resolved a court case filed by environmental advocates at the Conservation Law Foundation. They had challenged an earlier decision for the new plant, arguing that regulators failed to sufficiently weighed the facility’s emissions in relation to the state’s pollution reduction goals.
Richard K. Sullivan Jr., state secretary of energy and environmental affairs, lauded both the plant’s final approval by the Energy Facilities Siting Board, which oversees the siting of power plants, and the earlier legal settlement.
“This agreement is forward-thinking, as it not only ensures electricity reliability for the region, but requires [greenhouse gas] reductions,” Sullivan, who chairs the siting board, said in a statement.
Scott Silverstein, chief operating officer of Footprint Power, said he was “very pleased” with the unanimous vote by the siting board.
“This decision allows us to move forward with a project that will provide much-needed energy reliability as well as significant environmental benefits throughout the Commonwealth,” he said in an e-mailed statement.
Though the new plant will be cleaner-burning and smaller than the old facility — opening up acres of prime waterfront for redevelopment — it still has detractors.
About a dozen protesters with the Better Future Project, a local environmental nonprofit, attended the Thursday meeting, where they broke into a song calling on the state to stop using fusing fossil fuels in favor of renewables.
“We don’t want no fossil fuels, we don’t need no gas, build only the best for Salem, and ban the worst in Mass.,” the group sang.
Siting board member Ann Berwick, who also chairs the Department of Public Utilities, sympathized with protesters’ climate concerns but said it was “fantasy” at this point to think renewable energy sources can meet all the state’s electricity needs.
Previously, officials with regional grid operator ISO New England warned that Boston and communities in northeastern Massachusetts faced a potential electric capacity shortage that could cause rolling blackouts if another plant wasn’t built to replace the retiring Salem Harbor Power Station.