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Jun. 25—SALEM — Officials with the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs are working with local leaders to explore the possibility for undeveloped land around the Salem Harbor Footprint power plant to serve as an offshore wind marshaling yard, Mayor Kim Driscoll said.
The announcement came at a Salem Harbor Port Authority meeting held remotely Wednesday night.
"Earlier this afternoon, I had a terrific conversation, a followup of several, with Secretary Theoharides," Driscoll said, referencing Kathleen Theoharides, the state's secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs. "They're really interested in the city and the state forming a partnership to explore the development of offshore wind port facilities on the Footprint site, the Port of Salem."
For years, officials have pitched the idea of building housing and mixed-use development on the more than 40 acres of unused waterfront land Footprint owns near the plant.
But as more conversations have focused on the climate crisis and advancing forms of renewable energy, Salem's potential role in the wind industry has frequently come up.
This year, the state's Clean Energy Center gave local environmentalists a leg up by suggesting the idea of a "marshaling yard" in the Witch City. If built, a marshaling yard would host the pieces necessary to build an offshore, water-based wind turbine, and then serve as the construction site for the turbine and its platform before they're shipped off and connected to the grid somewhere along the Eastern Seaboard.
Footprint warmed to the idea in April, committing at that point to back the city's interests if a marshaling yard was shown to be the preferred use of the property.
From there, the process has only accelerated. When asked for "what's new this month," Footprint Chief Operating Officer Scott Silverstein told the meeting "forget about this month. It sounds like just in the last few hours that there have been developments, and very welcome developments."
The state now phoning in its support "is really good news," Driscoll said, "because I don't think any city can go in alone. I don't think a port authority can go in alone. I don't even think a developer can go in alone. There needs to really be an aligned strategy to maximize offshore wind opportunities here in Massachusetts and, frankly, here in Salem."
This still isn't a hard guarantee that offshore wind is the future for the Port of Salem, however. But more will be known soon.
"Over the next, I'd say, four to eight weeks, I think some of the picture starts to take form and maybe gets colored in a little more," Driscoll said. "Exciting times ahead, but a lot is still very gray."
That said, Footprint is already showing the property to enthusiastic parties. For the last several weeks, it has been running a Request for Expressions of Interest process (or REI) with offshore wind industry companies, according to Silverstein.
Marine contractors, manufacturers of the individual parts, and others have toured the property, he said. Silverstein declined to provide further specifics to protect the businesses' interests.
"The types of things that we've heard expressed publicly at (past Harbor Port Authority and Harbor Plan Committee) meetings are the same things we've heard expressed in the site tours," Silverstein said. "There's a significantly increased level of interest today than there was, as the mayor said, just six months ago."
Still, to put the Port of Salem on the offshore wind industry's map, it will take massive partnerships — just like the one Driscoll referenced.
"We've certainly made it clear to folks that were coming through," Silverstein said. "No matter what happens on the site, no matter what the legal structure is, no matter what the ultimate use is, it's going to take the city, the state, the landowner, and the ultimate user if those are different, all working together and all having their interests aligned, and all being comfortable in terms of what the plan is going forward."