HealthLink, a local nonprofit group of community activists, announced Monday that it and the Conservation Law Foundation have reached a settlement in federal court with Dominion Energy of New England.
So what does the Salem power plant operated by Dominion have to do with Peabody?
Well, the $275,000 agreement over violations of the Clean Air Act over a five-year period, which were self-documented by Dominion, is mainly going to Salem, but both Peabody and Lynn are getting $25,000 apiece, which will pay for some upgrades at local schools.
Essentially the plant emitted more air pollutants (soot) from its smokestacks than allowed under federal regulations. CLF initially filed suit in 2010, saying it would seek millions in damages.
CLF said recent studies showed that even short-term exposure to soot was linked to higher hospitalization rates for heart and respiratory problems and that residents throughout the North Shore were dealing with the effects of the plant's "toxic plume."
Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt says the money now will pay for new interior lighting at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School -- Lynn is using the money for new lights and motion detectors at two elementary schools.
For the most part, the light fixtures at PVMHS are the same ones that were originally installed in 1970 when the school was built. This project will replace 560 outdated flourescent lights with 450 modern fixtures.
“We will save money on labor costs by using our in-house electrician and maintenance team to perform the work and we will save thousands of dollars each year on energy costs with the new equipment. Better classroom lighting for our students and significant savings for taxpayers is a great outcome for Peabody,” said Bettencourt.
That's $3,402 in savings per year, to be exact, and the newer fixtures produce more light, so not as many are needed.
And back in Salem, the Witch City's $225,000 will cover state-of-the-art plumbing, electrical, and photovoltaic systems at its new senior center and pay for two hybrid city vehicles.
“Compared to the actual monetary damage such pollution causes, this is a pittance,” said Martha Dansdill of HealthLink on Monday. “However, we are pleased to be part of this effort to force some positive outcomes from years of enduring these unhealthy emissions.”
She said the settlement does make the new power plant owner, Footprint, responsible for fines for subsequent violations as long as the coal plant remains operational while ensuring that coal cannot be burned at the site after June 2014.