Mirant to spend $34 million on environmental safeguards

Mirant to spend $34 million on environmental safeguards

It was June of 2004 when the city took an official stance on Mirants Potomac River Generating Station  after uproar from citizens over the pollution eminating from the power plant. Four years later, on Tuesday, City Council approved a settlement requiring the energy company to spend $34 million on environmental improvements.

City officials said the agreement is the short-term clean-up portion of a two-tier plan to eventually eliminate the station from the rivers banks. It was reached via negotiations between the energy company and city officials. The Mirant Community Monitoring Group, a panel of community members, Vice Mayor Del Pepper and Councilman Paul Smedberg, all played a role in forming the agreement.

The citys ability to wave a magic wand and make a facility disappear is very limited, said Bill Skrabak, director of the Office of Environmental Quality. So you need to understand, as much as we all might want the plant to go away tomorrow, its really probably not going to happen in the short term.

The agreement focuses on particulate matter, a pollutant that easily penetrates the human respiratory system and can cause long-term health problems. The agreement will allow the plant to merge its five smokestacks into two. Fewer smokestacks will disperse emissions higher, faster and further.

The $34 million will be placed in an escrow account under the citys control. The city will then hire an engineering firm in consultation with Mirant to study the plant and report on its condition for improvement, allowing officials to decide the best use for the sum. Until that study is completed by July 31, 2009, officials do not know how the funds will be allocated.

When you are doing a project with a [60-year-old] plant, you never know what will arise said Lalit Sharma. There are a whole host of things. Youre dealing with uncertainty but what you are also dealing with is a substantial amount of [safety provisions].

Building a baghouse, which collects and filters particulate matter for each stack, is community monitoring groups most desired safeguard. But, there is no guarantee that $34 million is enough to install the baghouse, consultants who helped orchestrate the deal said.

Some citizens voiced concern with the agreement. It seems like were starting with a dollar amount and working backward, Steve Troxel of the monitoring group said. How did you arrive at the number?

We have done our homework to the extent we can, said Malay Jindal of Mactec Engineering and Consulting, the firm that helped the city broker the deal.  There is no way to answer the unknowns unless an engineer goes in an does a thorough analysis.

Stakeholders at the state and federal level voiced concerns as well, applauding the deal but  deriding the plants existence.

While this settlement is a short-term victory for cleaner air, benefiting everyone living in the Washington Metropolitan Area, larger issues continue unresolved, Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) stated. Mirants Potomac Plant is an out-dated, coal-fired facility that will continue to spew harmful pollutants, albeit at a mandated lower level.

It is my understanding that we are not likely to get a better, more restrictive permit from the Air Pollution Control Board without this agreement, Del. David Englin (D-45) said in a released statement. If that is the case, then, as much as so many of us myself included remain unbowed in our desire to close this plant completely, we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good

Its just time for the city of Alexandria and Mirant to start working together, said Misty Allen, director of external affairs for Mirant. The plant obviously has a role to play in the regional energy market. As long as were operating in compliance with federal and state regulations well continue to provide service.

City officials believe that the settlement puts Alexandria in a better position that it would be in if the city waited for a decision from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality next month.

In my experience the cases that get resolved the best get resolved through settlement, City Attorney Ignacio Pessoa said. We came to the conclusion that this a good agreement for the city.