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Plant Responsible for Toxic Plume to Close

Tracey Gold Bennett | 9/7/2011, 12:42 p.m.

The Alexandria, Va., coal-fired electric generating plant responsible for a toxic plume hovering over Ward 8 in the District as well as parts of Maryland and Virginia, will soon be shut down. The GenOn plant, also known as the Potomac River Generating Station, will be permanently closed by Oct 1, 2012.

In July, the Washington Informer reported that the Sierra Club and Alexandria residents had been attempting to get the plant closed for a number of years. The Sierra Club hired an independent contractor and conducted a study, which revealed high amounts of sulfur dioxide being released into the air in the District, Maryland and Virginia. Now, the plant is being retired.

This is a major victory, not so much for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, which it is, but for the health and well-being of our District residents and others who have been adversely impacted by pollution produced by this coal fired power plant," said Irv Sheffey, environmental justice and community organizer for the Sierra Club.

Alexandria Mayor William D. Eulle agrees.

"Today's (Aug. 30) announcement is a path forward for both Alexandria and the power company that works for everybody, and truly reflects the interest of both parties," said Euille. "Both the Alexandria City Council and community have worked extremely hard toward this goal, and we are very proud of the final result. This news strengthens Alexandria's future and opens the door to an enhanced quality of life for our residents."

The GenOn plant began operating in 1949 and has gone through a number of names, including Mirant and Pepco, which owned the plant until 2000.

Here's how shut down of the plant agreement will work: The City of Alexandria will facilitate the closing by releasing approximately $32 million currently held in escrow, which was set aside to pay for the additional environmental controls at the station, as a result of a 2008 agreement between the City and GenOn.

Under terms of the agreement, GenOn has agreed to retire the generating station by Oct. 1, 2012 or -- if the plant is needed beyond that date for reliability purposes -- as soon as it is no longer needed. GenOn will coordinate with PJM Interconnection L.L.C., Pepco, and government regulators for the necessary notifications and approvals to close the plant.

"Retiring the facility next year makes sense for GenOn, but it is a difficult decision given the impact on the approximate 120 employees who work at the station," said Edward R. Muller, GenOn chairman and CEO. "Our decision to retire the plant is not reflective of our employees' skills, dedication or capabilities, and we will work to help them in their transition over the next year."