Community News — 12 May 2011
Coal plant violations fuel critics

The GenOn coal power plant on the banks of the Potomac River has agreed to pay the state about $275,000 for a string of violations going back to February of last year.
    
Human error, equipment malfunction and failure to follow standard operating procedures led to the breaches, according to an order from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
    
The important thing to note is there was no safety risk, said GenOn spokeswoman Misty Allen. There are things we need to make corrections to and we are committed to doing so.
    
DEQ officials paid a surprise visit to the Royal Street plant last September and found that the coal being used contained more ash than the Virginia Air Pollution Control Law allows. The more ash coal contains, the higher the potential for harmful, microscopic matter to escape the power plant.
    
Its the starting point for determining the quantity of the material that can be emitted from the facility, said Terry Darton, an air permit manager with DEQ.
    
GenOn used filters but violated their permits restrictions by using unauthorized coal in the first place, according to the report.
    
We work with a fuel team and theyre responsible for finding coal that works with our permit, and unfortunately we received coal that tested above [the limit] and used it anyway, Allen said. That train should not have been unloaded.
    
The riverfront generating station has had a target on its back for years. Elected officials and nearby residents have made it clear GenOn is not welcome, and the plant agreed to spend $34 million on environmental improvements in 2008. The Sierra Club opened an office in Del Ray specifically to shut down local coal-burning plants, including GenOn.
    
In each response to our campaign GenOn repeatedly claimed that they are in compliance with state rules and regulations, said Phillip Ellis, the local Sierra Club field organizer. This $275,000 enforcement action proves otherwise.
    
The environmental organization submitted a 1,200-name petition to GenOns vice president asking for a retirement schedule for the plant, Ellis said.
    
The DEQ also fined the plant for having a high emissions rate on June 28 of last year, stemming from human error, according to the report. The plants towers breached the permitted opacity rate. In other words, the pollution was visible.
    
[The particulate matter] was exiting the stack and coming out faster than what we were adjusting to capture the emissions, Allen said. Basically when it becomes visible, youre at a point that you dont want.
    
GenOn, formerly Mirant, will revisit training manuals and techniques to protect against future violations, Allen said.
    
DEQ officials discovered most of the violations by analyzing data submitted by the plant, except for the one unannounced visit and an admitted error on GenOns part. 
    
The payout is not a legal fine, but a civil penalty agreed upon by both parties in light of the plants violations, officials said. 
    
We dont tell them how to run their plant, we just tell them when we have issues were concerned about, Darton said.
    
The City of Alexandria wont see any of the money stemming from the penalty, officials said. 

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