End near for GenOn power plant

End near for GenOn power plant
File Photo

Residents will breathe easier after the GenOn power plant closes next week, ending a years-long battle between the company and city officials, neighbors and activists.

City officials reached an agreement with GenOn to shut the plant down — effective Monday — last year, with Alexandria agreeing to release $32 million to the company held in escrow for projects improving environmental controls. They heralded the deal at the time as a landmark decision.

With the closing date looming, GenOn officials have given every indication the plant will power down for good, said William Skrabak, deputy director of the city’s office of environmental quality. And residents like Elizabeth Chimento have waited years for the moment.

“We are overjoyed that this project we had worked on for so long and had experienced so many difficulties with has finally come to a close,” said Chimento, a volunteer teacher who with her neighbor Poul Hertel has fought to close the plant since 2001.

But her work isn’t quite finished. Although the plant will power down, the company remains responsible for an outstanding violation notice issued by the state’s Environmental Quality Department, Chimento said. In August 2012, GenOn was fined for exeeding emmision rates twice.

“I’ll continue to work on that until it’s resolved. At that point, I will consider my work on the power plant concluded,” Chimento said. “This means much better air for the city and less pollutants … especially for the 4,000 people who are around the immediate vicinity of the plant.”

Situated on the Potomac River, the plant opened in 1949 and produces just 5 percent of the city’s electricity. Many residents criticized the plant for failing to meet emissions regulations and producing greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide.

After GenOn’s doors officially close, the company will begin a deactivation plan, which includes an electrical disconnect from the switchyard on the property, removing all excess coal and selling it back into the marketplace, said company spokeswoman Misty Allen.

The Alexandria skyline will remain unchanged for the time being. Pepco owns the land — valued at about $54.7 million, according to the Virginia State Corporation Commission — and GenOn has no plans to demolish the structure.

“We are overjoyed that this project we had worked on for so long and had experienced so many difficulties would finally come to a close,” Chimento said.