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A clean resolution for Salem power plant controversy

Salem Harbor Power Statio will be turned from a coal- and oil-fired plant into one that runs on natural gas.Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

In a pact perhaps unprecedented anywhere in the world, the builders of a proposed new natural gas-fired power plant in Salem agreed last week to a schedule of carbon dioxide emissions that gradually declines until 2050, when the plant will shut down. The deal with Footprint Power settled the attempt by the Conservation Law Foundation to block the plant until operators guaranteed that it wouldn’t detract from the Patrick administration’s goal of reducing carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. The agreement made it a no-brainer for the state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board to give its final approval Thursday by a 5-0 vote.

The approval also clears the way for Salem to redevelop its waterfront, as the plant will take up only 20 of the 65 acres of a current coal-fired plant. The vote did not sit well with all clean-energy supporters, even though natural gas is much cleaner than coal. At the meeting, some protesters sang against the plant to the strumming of a ukulele. Board chair Ann Berwick told them, “I share completely the concerns,” but added, “it is a fantasy that we can keep the lights on, certainly now,” without some continued use of fossil fuels. She’s right — but so was the Conservation Law Foundation, which secured such a forward-looking guarantee of declining emissions.