Environmentalists heat up opposition to coal-fired plant


A coal-fired power plant on the citys riverfront has become a local target of a national initiative by the Sierra Club, which recently setup shop in Del Ray in an attempt to expel the polluting neighbor.

Distaste among residents for the G

enOn power plant, formerly known as Mirant, is nothing new. City officials have called for its ouster publically for several years, as have neighbors living in its shadow. The Sierra Club wants to finish the job.

This is an iconic plant, especially on a national level, said Phillip Ellis, the environmental groups local field organizer. Moreover, this isnt a national organization coming in and telling people in the community how to live. This was a grassroots movement before we came along.

The plant was part of Alexandrias old industrial landscape, but dense residential development has since surrounded it, causing residents and officials to question its effect on the publics health.

But GenOn is permitted to operate by the Department of Environmental Quality in part because of a 2008 agreement to spend $34 million on enhancements to reduce harmful emissions namely particulate matter that can cause respiratory problems. 

The permit has no time limit but can be altered by the state or GenOn if a change in law occurs, according to Misty Allen, the plants spokeswoman.

We are a legitimate business with just over 125 employees at the plant, and an annual taxpayer to the city, Allen said. People understand that we are an industrial-type facility in a primarily residential area and were being a good corporate neighbor as best as we can.

The coal plants legitimacy is not the question at hand, according to concerned residents. Its invisible dangers are. 

Pollution from this plant is potentially impacting our family, said Gabe Wisniewski, who lives a half-mile from the plant. Its more about the community demanding they leave and not asking them to do us a favor. 

Wisniewski attended an information session headed by Ellis and other environmental activists Monday at MetroStage, a block from GenOn, where Ellis questioned the necessity for a coal plant on the banks of the Potomac River.

The electricity conducted there feeds into a regional power grid that naturally tends to power D.C. and Maryland, Allen said. And it only operates at 19 percent capacity, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Its not even necessary to keep the lights on, Ellis said.

Pollution is less than ideal, but the plant is an industrial neighbor that has made substantial improvements, according environmentalist and City Councilman Rob Krupicka.

My position is its not appropriate from a long-term standpoint, but I think the city is also pragmatic, he said.  

Councilman Frank Fannon, known for his pro-business tenor, believes GenOn will exit gracefully eventually on its own terms. The land along the waterfront is prime real estate and the market could nudge it away naturally.

Theres lots of businesses that have been in town that have been in town for a very long time, Fannon said. And as the city tends to grow into a more metropolitan area   I think most of the industrial businesses will end up going away, and I think its very important that they do it on their timetable.

But its up to us to make sure theyre following all the laws and regulations.