Air board ruling has city smiling, for now

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The City of Alexandria finally has a victory in its fight to close Mirants Potomac River Generating Station. The Virginia Air Pollution Control Board ruled last Wednesday that the plant can continue operations as usual until July 1, at which time significant restrictions will be imposed.

This is a real victory for the city, said City Councilman Paul Smedberg, who co-chairs the Mirant Monitoring Group, which Council established some time ago to monitor Mirants compliance with environmental rules.

The board supported the citys preferred option, which will impose much stricter guidelines than the agreement that Mirant had reached with the Virginia Division of Environmental Quality, said Smedberg. The board also rejected Mirants request to merge its stacks, which Mirant said would have improved environmental quality. Mirant is disappointed that on May 23, the Air Board rejected the recommendations of the professional staff of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to provide a Consent Order that the DEQ said would have been more protective of National Ambient Air Quality Standards and the environment than the State Operating Permit that the Board passed, said Bob Driscoll, CEO, Mirant Mid-Atlantic. We believe, that with a stack merge and lower limits on several pollutants, the DEQ order would have provided much better environmental protections for the citizens of Virginia.  

The plant will continue to operate under the order from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, which expires on June 30, 2007. Before that date, VDEQ, the City of Alexandria, Mirant and EPA must come to some agreement.

Virginia Congressman James Moran (D-8) has been involved in monitoring the citys dispute with Mirant and testified at the Air Pollution Control Boards hearing last week. The board made a sound decision in favor of the communitys health. Mirants latest efforts to dodge emissions limits and foil robust monitoring have failed. With the boards action, cleaner air for all Alexandrians is in reach. Moran said.

Summer forecast
Just before the Air Board hearing, PJM, the manager of the power grid for the mid-Atlantic region, released its 2007 summer forecast, stating that a cooler than usual summer is expected and projecting the need for less power than usual.

I would certainly hope that this will be taken into consideration when the new operating permit is issued, Smedberg said.

Mirant does not believe this will have any impact.

The PJM summer 2007 forecast is consistent with what FERC is saying, which is that we will have a cooler summer. This does not change the fact that energy reserves in this region are low and growth is continuing to drive demand, according to Driscoll. With no new electricity generation being constructed the reserve margins will continue to decline. The Potomac River Generating Station provides affordable energy to a market that wants and needs it.  It is also worth noting that while the 2006 PJM forecast was similar to this years, PJM saw record-breaking usage and demand last summer.
 
City Council is still considering whether to appeal two court rulings in Mirants favor, one by the U. S. District Court in Washington, the other by the Virginia Supreme Court. One ruling rejected the citys attempt to close the power plant through the use of a zoning ordinance. There is some significant information that was not considered related to this suit so we may appeal that decision, Smedberg said. We are still considering our options.

The city has been trying to close the 50-year-old coal-fired power plant for the past several years. The plant provides power to parts of the District of Columbia and is a source of backup power for the entire mid-Atlantic grid.

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