July 21, 2008

Power Plant Foes Step Up Opposition

By Chris Cassidy, The Salem News, Beverly, Mass.

Jul. 21--SALEM -- Environmental activists have launched a public-relations blitz against the Salem Harbor power plant as an important deadline for reducing emissions approaches this week.

Several environmental groups will appear on a live program on Salem Access Television tonight focusing on the corporate practices of Dominion, the Virginia-based plant owner.

At the same time, two new Web sites have sprung up calling for the plant to close and its Fort Avenue site to be redeveloped. One has even sponsored a newspaper ad campaign.

All this comes just days before a significant deadline with implications for the plant's future.

On Thursday, Dominion is expected to lay out its plans to reduce emissions in order to meet tougher pollution regulations. Activists are pointing to it as a pivotal moment and hold out hope the plant will announce either its closure or a switch from coal to a cleaner source of energy.

Suddenly, opponents of the power plant see an opportunity.

"Really for the first time, we're hearing an incredible drumbeat in the community with people saying it's time for that plant to close," said Jane Bright of HealthLink, a North Shore environmental group.

Activists say the public's view of the plant has shifted. Dominion's payments to the city have dwindled from $8.5 million nine years ago to $4.75 million last year. Residents are now more concerned about the environment than they were a decade ago, they said. And the death of three power plant workers in a steam pipe explosion last year raised serious safety questions, Guy said.

"The tragedy of that explosion in November reminded people how old and outdated this plant is," said Guy.

Two anti-power plant Web sites have been launched in the last few months condemning the plant and urging a new use for the site.

One site -- stoptheplantnow.org -- has purchased newspaper ads with a headline screaming: "533 lives lost in the past ten years for 147 jobs." It claims a Harvard School of Public Health study estimated the plant's emissions caused 53 premature deaths each year.

"Dominion: Tell the truth," the ad reads. "Stop the plant. Save the planet."

They are strong allegations -- and ones that the Web site's creator is making anonymously. No name is listed on the Web site and only a generic e-mail address is listed on the ad.

Reached by phone, the creator of the Web site declined a request to talk on the record and would not identify himself or herself.

Still, the creator appears to have resources and has hired a Boston architectural firm to draw sketches of what the site could look like if the plant were closed.

Jim Norvelle, a spokesman for Dominion, declined to respond specifically to the ad, but stressed the power plant's importance to the region.

"New England needs the reliable electricity that Salem Harbor provides," said Norvelle. "The station is in full compliance with all Massachusetts and federal regulations. Dominion and its hard-working employees at Salem Harbor are proud to play a vital role in providing electricity for our homes, schools and businesses and civic energy throughout the community."

Lisa Abbate, the creator of a Web site called visionforsalem.org, gave her site a plug while questioning Gov. Deval Patrick about the plant during a town hall-style meeting in Salem two weeks ago.

Her site envisions closing the plant and turning the location into a mixture of residential and commercial developments.

"The political climate has changed," said Abbate, a Salem resident. "We're all becoming more and more aware of what's happening to our environment, and it's the right time to do it."

Meanwhile, Pat Gozemba of Salem Alliance for the Environment will host a show tonight on SATV looking at Dominion's practices in Massachusetts, Virginia and Colombia, where it buys some of its coal.

"I think we have to look out for Salem," said Gozemba. "And that's what we've been doing."

Staff writer Chris Cassidy can be reached at [email protected]


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Copyright (c) 2008, The Salem News, Beverly, Mass.

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