For 60 years, one of the defining features of Salem Harbor in the world-famous Witch City was the Salem Harbor Power Plant – a hulking, coal-burning behemoth.
It’s now undergoing a rapid $1 billion transformation into a smaller, cleaner, natural-gas-powered plant that will also open up 40 acres of prime coastal land for redevelopment, homes, and maritime industry. It ranks as easily one of the single biggest new opportunities for a waterfront transformation of an historic city in all of New England.
“If I had to use one word to describe today and this project, it would be 'transformational,' '' Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said at a groundbreaking celebration Tuesday with dozens of local community leaders, top executives of plant owner Footprint Power, and investors, construction specialists and advisers working on the project.
Patricia Gozemba, who lives a quarter-mile from the plant and has been a Salem resident since 1964, is among a group of neighbors who have crusaded for years to get the old plant shut down. “We all thought that anything would be better than what is here, which was the coal-burning power plant," Gozemba said. “Frankly, I look at it as a blight on the city, and I always looked at it as a blight on the city.''
The plant did, however, provide electricity for Boston and Essex County that grid operators warned they couldn't live without, as well as big city tax revenues Salem warned it couldn't live without. “When the power plant was talking about closing down, I thought: ‘Oh boy. Now what? What's next?’ ‘’ said State Senator Joan Lovely, a Salem Democrat and former member of the city council. “And here we are. And it's a great morning."
June of 2017 is when plant developer Footprint Power hopes there'll be a new 674-megawatt plant going operational and first producing electricity. But the transformation this project can offer the historic Witch City is one that could unfold over decades. “It’s a block from the House of the Seven Gables, very close proximity to downtown,’’ Driscoll said. “There's all kinds of opportunities for us to have people on the site, public access."