We’re paying more for power at the Salem Harbor Station, even though plant owner Dominion Energy keeps filing delisting paper work with ISO New England (ISO NE), according to Shanna Cleveland, staff attorney at Conservation Law Foundation (CLF).

On Sunday November 7, 2010 Salem Alliance for the Environment (SAFE) and Marblehead, Mass.-based HealthLink sponsored an evening to talk about the Real Coast of Coal: Columbia to Salem at First Church on Essex Street.

Before a packed house speakers from SAFE; Avi Chomsky, author and chairwoman of Latin American Studies at Salem State University; Jeff Deyette, assistant director of energy and analysis  for the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS); and Jose Brito, union representative for mining workers of Cerrejón in Colombia talked to us about what coal is costing in terms of dollars as well as environmental and social injustice.

The discussion began with local coal purchasing and then centered on how coal extraction at the largest coal mines in the world effect the Colombian indigenous and black communities in the areas surrounding them. Expropriated land, contaminated water and air, and all manner of displacement has eviscerated these communities economically, environmentally, and socially.

We’ve heard of such things and watched a short film about it that surely would humble every middle class American to see it. Locally, the Salem government had issued a proclamation supporting the rights of those that live in the area from where Dominion buys this low-sulphur coal product. In the past, we’ve written personal letters asking Dominion to look into the abuses and speak to their colleagues at Cerrejón.

But the rub is that we are not only using this coal, we are paying a premium for it.

Massachusetts imported 82% of its coal in 2008 from foreign sources, according to UCS, but coal is supposed to be a cheap American fuel source. At least that’s what the energy folks were telling us on television during the last Presidential election, right?

According to CLF, ISO NE agreed to pay Dominion $18.5 million above the market cost of coal for 2012-2013 and $17 million above for the 2013-2014 generation year.

Why is ISO-NE  doing this? According to CLF, it’s because it has not prepared well enough to take the plant offline and believes it may from time to time need its power generation in the height of the summer. Dominion asked for this extra money to compensate for running a plant it no longer wants to run at a time when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will soon establish limits for seven air pollutants–standards which the plant is ill-equipped to meet.

“We shouldn’t be stuck paying their bill for cleaner air,” Cleveland surmised on Dominion shareholders’ thinking.

There is also the matter of the tax base in Salem. Just a few years ago Mayor Kimberley Driscoll negotiated a deal with then new plant owner Dominion to ensure a historically lower, but respectable level of tax payments.

“We need Dominion and ISO New England to be clear about this…only through planning and openness can we ensure a just transition,” said Cleveland.

For more information and relevant documents, see the CLF Web page on Salem Power Station. Read on at CLF Scoop.