A settlement reached between Dominion and conservation groups that was last week approved by a federal court makes the utility’s plans to shutter all four units at its 60-year-old Salem Harbor Station in Salem, Mass., by 2014 legally enforceable.

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and HealthLink, which had sued Dominion in 2010, hailed a settlement reached with the company and approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, saying that it ensures Dominion may not repower its retired coal-burning units, even if a buyer for the power were to come forward. The settlement also reportedly prohibits Dominion or future owners of the plant from using coal as a generating fuel at the site.

In that suit, the groups had alleged, among other things, violations of visible/opacity emissions and monitoring requirements as well as violations of the Massachusetts State Implementation Plan under the Clean Air Act.

“The settlement among Dominion and the environmental organizations dismisses the opacity allegations and sets a path forward for Salem based on our previously announced plans to close the power station in June 2014,” Dominion spokesman Jim Norvelle told POWERnews.

Per the agreement, Salem’s Units 1 and 2 were shut down as required by Dec. 31, 2011, and Units 3 and 4 will be closed by June 2014. Dominion also agreed pay the CLF attorney fees of $100,000 and spend $275,000 to support projects that could reduce air pollution in the communities that have been most affected by the 745-MW plant’s emissions.

“The settlement provides a template for the rest of the country for hastening plant shutdowns as changing market conditions, public health concerns and cleaner energy alternatives push the nation’s fleet of old, polluting dinosaurs to the brink,” the CLF said in a statement.

Dominion had kept the plant open because regional grid operator ISO-New England had determined it was necessary for reliability from 2014-2015, despite Dominion’s requests to retire the units by June 2014. “ISO New England is responsible for the reliable operation of the region’s power system, but it does not have the authority to prevent a resource from retiring,” the transmission entity said. “At this point, Dominion can choose to continue operating units 3 and 4 in 2014 or it can proceed to retire the two units.”

Dominion, meanwhile, is negotiating a sale of the site to New Jersey–based Footprint Power, which plans to convert it to a gas-fired plant that could begin generating power for the region in 2016.

Sources: POWERnews, Dominion, CLF, ISO-New England