By ecoRI News staff
SALEM. Mass. — The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) has reached a groundbreaking settlement ensuring that for the first time a proposed natural gas-fired power plant must comply with conditions aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and over-reliance on fossil fuels. The agreement also includes enforceable annually declining emissions limits and a date certain for future plant retirement.
The agreement between CLF and the developers of the natural gas-fired Footprint Power Plant proposed at the site of a retiring coal-fired plant in Salem has been filed for final review and approval with Massachusetts authorities.
“At a time when many across the nation and the world see unrestricted growth of natural gas as a climate solution, this is the first settlement providing a pathway for new natural gas infrastructure to help enable rather than undermine a clean energy future,” CLF president John Kassel said. “By recognizing the need to limit greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas-fired plants, this agreement reaffirms that natural gas and other fossil-fuel projects must comply with state climate mandates, and has important implications for similar projects in the region and nationally.”
Since summer 2012, the proposed Footprint plant has been at the center of legal battles over concerns raised by CLF and local residents, on the grounds that neither the plant’s developers nor the state had demonstrated how the proposed facility could be consistent with the deep emissions reductions established by the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2008, requiring emissions to be cut at least 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
Under the settlement announced Feb. 18, the developers of the Footprint plant agreed to the first set of binding conditions for a natural-gas plant that establish decreasing annual emissions limits and a retirement date of no later than Jan. 1, 2050. These conditions will help to ensure that the new plant will not hinder Massachusetts’ progress toward reducing emissions, according to the CLF.
In connection with the settlement, the state has committed to provide support to municipalities with active or retired coal plants with up to $2 million in funding to build renewable energy facilities and transition to clean energy rather than relying on new fossil-fuel plants.
“This agreement shows how natural gas can be a tool for reducing greenhouse emissions if it is appropriately conditioned and constrained in a manner that is consistent with the need to decarbonize our energy system,” said Shanna Cleveland, attorney for CLF. “Natural gas is often viewed as a bridge to the clean-energy future; this settlement ensures that there is an end to that bridge.”