By Carla Branch
GenOn’s Potomac River Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant on the Potomac, will cease producing electricity at midnight on Sunday.
“As previously announced, Potomac River station will cease generating electricity at 00:00 on Oct. 1, 2012,” Said Misty Allen, GenOn Vice President Asset Management. “Closure or deactivation activities will begin and are expected to last through much of 2013.
“Examples of deactivation activities (not an exhaustive list): decommissioning of equipment and storage tanks; removal and remediation of coal yard; safeguarding building and grounds, including adding additional security cameras; and electrically disconnecting from the PEPCO switchyard, which will remain in service transporting electricity through PEPCO’s electric distribution and transmission system.
‘In the end, we are committed to maintaining a safe, clean facility until a future plan for the facility or the site is developed,” Allen said.
GenOn has offered the plant’s 150 employees buy-outs and severance packages or transfers to other facilities. Some have chosen to leave the company for other employment.
According to GenOn’s website, Located on the Potomac River just south of Reagan National Airport, the Potomac River Generating Station is a 482-megawatt capacity coal-fired station and began operation in 1949. The station has units which operate at baseload, intermediate and peak levels.
Consistent improvements have been made to the Potomac River Generating Station to reduce air emissions and make operations more efficient. Investments in new equipment and technology have reduced sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions more than 70 percent, decreased oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions up to 55 percent, and capture more than 98 percent of particulate matter, including flyash.
Those improvements to the plant were made as the result of an agreement betgween the city of Alexandria and GenOn to avoid further litigation. The road to that agreement was long and began in 2001 with research conducted by Elizabeth Chimento and Poul Hertel, two concerned citizen activists. Chimento provided the following timeline:
Elizabeth Chimento and Poul Hertel begin investigating plant after noticing in their North Old Town neighborhood a gray residue coating their exterior window sills, cars and outdoor furniture.
Chimento and Hertel present “Mirant Power Plant Emissions and Health Effects Report” to City Council. The Report takes note of the plant’s short stacks, includes two scientific articles showing serious health effects from small particle pollution (PM 2.5), reveals a Penn State Study indicating the neighborhood residue comes from the plant and a Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VADEQ) lab study demonstrating that 50% of the sampled neighborhood residue originates at the plant.
City considers Chimento/Hertel Report, hires Harvard School of Public Health’s Dr. Jonathan Levy, author of a scientific study presented in Chimento/Hertel Report, to do in-depth study of PM 2.5 health effects on Alexandrians.
Chimento/Hertel contract Sullivan Environmental Consultants to execute a downwash study on Marina Towers, a high-rise condominium just north of the plant. The study shows that downwash is occurring at Marina Towers as often as 1,200 hours per year. Downwash is a phenomenon which results in inadequate plume dispersion, by pulling concentrated pollutants downward instead of upward into the ambient atmosphere.
EPA issues Federal Consent Decree to Mirant Alexandria plant for violating its NOX emission limit by over 1000 tons in summer 2003. Also, the VADEQ issues Mirant Potomac River LLC an “Order by Consent” (9/23/04) mandating a complete downwash study based on the Sullivan Screening Downwash Report results.
City rezones plant property from non-complying use status to nonconforming status and revokes special use permit allowing plant use of 18,000 sq. ft. of office space and its transportation plan. Gives plant 7 years for amortization.
Mirant sues City for revoking zoning status and special use permit. Trial occurs Jan. 2006. Court rules in Mirant’s favor. In March 2006, City petitions to appeal case.
Mirant applies to FAA to increase stack heights to remedy downwash problem. FAA had informed plant in 1949 that the stacks were within the take-off and landing patterns at D.C. National Airport which necessitated short stacks to avoid obstruction hazard to air traffic.
Alexandria intervenes in Federal Consent Decree, claims Alexandria’s public health adversely affected by Federal Consent Decree. US Federal Court determines Alexandria will be limited party to Consent Decree process. No new Consent Decree as of this date.
Mirant submits complete Downwash Study to VADEQ.
August 19, 2005-
VADEQ responds to Mirant Downwash Study. Orders Mirant to come into compliance with all NAAQS within 36 hours. Study shows plant exceeds NAAQS for sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NO2),CO and PM10. PM 2.5, for which NAAQS exist, was not tested due to VADEQ waiving this pollutant for testing. Results show excesses near the plant for SO2 as well as gross excesses for all other criteria pollutants.
August 24, 2005-
Mirant shuts down power plant, unable to comply with NAAQS as VADEQ ordered.
Alexandria City completes independent Downwash Study. Analysis shows gross violations of PM 2.5, PM 10, and SO2 which exceed NAAQS by between 5 and 18 times.
August 24, 2005-
D.C. Public Service Commission files Emergency Petition and Complaint to U.S. Dept. of Energy and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission forecasting drastic effects to electric reliability and potential blackouts in D.C. due to Mirant Alexandria plant’s closure. DOE and FERC study case. Issue framed as reliability vs. public health.
FAA maintains it original decision, issues “Determination of Presumed Hazard” to Mirant’s application to raise stacks.
September 21, 2005-
Mirant resumes operation of Unit One (of five). VADEQ and City raise serious reservations about Mirant’s modeling assumptions for Unit One.
Mirant tests Trona injections used at plant to absorb excessive SO2 emissions documented in downwash study.
Federal Department of Energy instructs Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that the DOE alone will rule on DCPSC Complaint.
December 20, 2005-
U.S. Secretary of Energy issues Order on DCPSC Complaint. Invoking the Federal Power Act, usually reserved for war time emergencies, Secretary rules Mirant plant must run, according to “Option A”, one of two operating scenarios Mirant had been requested to submit to DOE. Both EPA and VADEQ state Option A does not exceed standards. However, City’s independent test on Option A shows standards for NO2, SO2 and PM exceeded by from one to 29 times.
January 12-28, 2006-
PEPCO declares emergency to repair transmission lines from plant. Repair requires all 5 units to run during repair process. Running all Plant units necessarily results in gross emission excesses like those of the downwash study.
January 12-13, 2006-
During the Pepco emergency repair period, heavy fog blanketed the City from early morning until mid-day on two successive days. The fog made pollution dispersion, already impeded by downwash, even more difficult. However, neither the EPA nor VADEQ stepped in to protect Alexandrians’ health during the entire repair period which grossly exceeded emission standards and put Alexandrians’ health at risk again.
Mirant plant begins Trona injections to absorb excessive SO2 emissions documented in downwash study.
“New Source Review” issues triggered by Trona injections. NSR regulations state that any mechanical changes which increase emissions at grandfathered old coal-fired plant requires that it must adhere to current emission standards. Trona injections increase PM2.5 emissions.
FAA reverses prior ruling. Issues “Determination of No Hazard to Air Navigation” on Mirant’s second application to raise plant’s stacks.
City asks Mirant for Trona tests demonstrating no emission excesses on criteria pollutants. Mirant responds by releasing a 21 page report with 17 of the 21 pages blacked out, claiming the corporation is seeking a patent on its Trona usage and is not required to disclose business secrets.
VADEQ instructs Mirant to conduct PM 10 and PM 2.5 in-stack emission tests. Mirant refuses to do PM 2.5 test. VADEQ then rescinds its approval for PM 10 test. Mirant ignores VADEQ rescission and tests PM 10, stopping midway to fix problems which occur during test period
Amended Federal Consent Decree issued (replaces earlier Consent Decree against Mirant Alexandria plant for NOX violation, summer 2003). Again, Alexandria gets higher NOX emission limit as a result.
City/Mirant Agreement Signed. Mirant will deposit $34 million dollars into escrow account for pollution controls on PRGS. Two million dollars to be spent on fugitive dust controls; thirty-two million to be spent on baghouses to minimize stack emissions of PM 2.5 and other pollutants. Mirant authorized to do virtual stack merge.
Final Agreement. In an Amendment to the July 08 City/Mirant Agreement, GenOn agrees to permanent closure of the PRGS by Oct. 1, 2012. City will return to GenOn the remaining $32 million stipulated in the Agreement for stack pollution controls.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and citizens such as Chimento will continue to monitor the plant through the decommissioning process. About a year ago during the removal of flyash, some of the sludge fell oonto the train tracks because of holes in the rail cars that were transporting it.
“We want to make certain that there are no problems such as that during the decommissioning process,” Chimento said.
Pepco owns the site on which GenOn has a 99-year lease. GenOn has said they will make no business decisions about the site until decommissioning is complete.
“We have a fiduciary responsibility to our shareholders to make the best possible deal,” Allen said in an earlier interview.