Potomac River Generating Station

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Potomac River Generating Station was a 514.0-megawatt (MW) coal-fired power station owned and operated by Mirant (now GenOn Energy) in Alexandria, Virginia.


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Plant Data

  • Owner: GenOn Energy (formerly Mirant Potomac River LLC)
  • Parent Company: GenOn Holdings
  • Plant Nameplate Capacity: 514.0 MW (Megawatts)
  • Units and In-Service Dates: Unit 1: 92.0 MW (1949), Unit 2: 92.0 MW (1950), Unit 3: 110.0 MW (1954), Unit 4: 110.0 MW (1956), Unit 5: 110.0 MW (1957)
  • Location: 1400 North Royal St., Alexandria, VA 22314
  • GPS Coordinates: 38.820278, -77.041389
  • Coal Consumption:
  • Coal Source:
  • Number of Employees:
  • Unit Retirements: All 5 units retired in October 2012.[1]

Plant Retirement

The plant shut down Oct. 1, 2012, after years of opposition from environmentalists and residents.[2]

Public opposition

GenOn's Potomac River Generating station is an old power plant located on the Potomac River in a residential district, close to Reagan National Airport and within sight of the Washington Monument. Controversy over the plant grew in the mid-2000s due to the plant's declining importance in the region's electric grid and the disproportionate amount of air pollution it creates. Plans to close the plant and turn the high-value riverfront land into park space have been proposed by a variety of groups and given substantial backing by local politicians.[3]

City of Alexandria and GenOn Agree to Close Potomac River Generating Station

The City of Alexandria and GenOn Energy have reached an agreement to retire this power plant by October 1, 2012, unless needed for reliability purposes.[4]

Emissions Data

  • 2006 CO2 Emissions: 1,776,053 tons
  • 2006 SO2 Emissions:
  • 2006 SO2 Emissions per MWh:
  • 2006 NOx Emissions:
  • 2005 Mercury Emissions:

Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from Potomac River Station

In 2010, Abt Associates issued a study commissioned by the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, quantifying the deaths and other health effects attributable to fine particle pollution from coal-fired power plants.[5] Fine particle pollution consists of a complex mixture of soot, heavy metals, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. Among these particles, the most dangerous are those less than 2.5 microns in diameter, which are so tiny that they can evade the lung's natural defenses, enter the bloodstream, and be transported to vital organs. Impacts are especially severe among the elderly, children, and those with respiratory disease. The study found that over 13,000 deaths and tens of thousands of cases of chronic bronchitis, acute bronchitis, asthma, congestive heart failure, acute myocardial infarction, dysrhythmia, ischemic heart disease, chronic lung disease, and pneumonia each year are attributable to fine particle pollution from U.S. coal plant emissions.

These deaths and illnesses are major examples of coal's external costs, i.e. uncompensated harms inflicted upon the public at large. Low-income and minority populations are disproportionately impacted as well, due to the tendency of companies to avoid locating power plants upwind of affluent communities. To monetize the health impact of fine particle pollution from each coal plant, Abt assigned a value of $7,300,000 to each 2010 mortality, based on a range of government and private studies. Valuations of illnesses ranged from $52 for an asthma episode to $440,000 for a case of chronic bronchitis.[6]

Table 1: Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from Potomac River Station

Type of Impact Annual Incidence Valuation
Deaths 37 $270,000,000
Heart attacks 60 $6,500,000
Asthma attacks 610 $32,000
Hospital admissions 28 $620,000
Chronic bronchitis 23 $10,000,000
Asthma ER visits 30 $11,000

Source: "Find Your Risk from Power Plant Pollution," Clean Air Task Force interactive table, accessed February 2011

Citizen Action

A longstanding campaign by the Sierra Club and regional environmental groups has targeted the Potomac River Generating station as one of the most likely for closure in the nation. [7] The "Gen-Off" campaign has partnered local activists with the Sierra Club, the Chesapeake Climate Action Nettwork, Greenpeace, American Clean Skies Foundation, the American Lung Association and Interfaith Power and Light. "Citizens of the City of Alexandria have fought the plant for nearly a decade, and have forced GenOn to set aside $34 million in an effort to contain some of the plant’s pollution. While we applaud this initial effort, a growing group of concerned citizens believe that GenOn should not continue to invest in a plant that nobody wants here."

The campaign took on extra political steam when Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray expressed concern about plant emissions in July 2011. [8] [9]

The Potomac River Generating Station was one of three major points of protest in the August, 2011 Wise Energy for Virginia tour. [10]

Momentum also built with a report questioning the need for the plant and a full architectural plan to replace the plant with a riverfront development and park, as noted below:

Need for the power plant questioned in July 2011 report

A report by the Analysis Group, a utility consulting firm, found in July 2011 that the plant could be shut down "without adversely impacting the power supply to the nation's capital." Benefits would include an overall reduction in air pollution. In 2010, the plant operated at 20 percent of capacity, accounting for less than one half of one percent of the total electricity supply in the region. Closure of the plant is more feasible in 2011-2012 than previously, the reported noted, since in 2007 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had ordered local electric utility PEPCO and regional transmission organization PJM to plan a more diversified grid structure. [11] [12]

Potomac River Green Project proposed

The plant was slated for redevelopment, under a $450 million plan unveiled in 2011 by the American Clean Skies Foundation.

The American Clean Skies Foundation, funded by the natural gas industry, proposed a plan to transform the power plant into a multi-use riverfront development. The plan would involve a public-private investment of $450 million to create 500 homes and over 200,000 square feet of office space along with parks and public access to the river. The heart of the site would be a "world-class new energy center for the Washington region." This would involve an alternative fuels center that would recharge electric natural gas vehicles.[13][14]

"This mixed-use redevelopment concept for the site of the Potomac River Generating Station (PRGS) is designed to provide a catalyst for a market-based solution to the plant's retirement," the plan's promoters said. [15] Articles in Grist Magazine and Treehugger also discussed the concept.

The problem with the concept is that a previous agreement to clean up the coal plant is still in effect, and some environmental groups oppose further delays in cleaning up the plant. [16]

Environmental law issues

Mirant Clean Air Settlement 2008

In 2005, the company's violations of the New Source Review requirements of the Clean Air Act led to negotiations between Mirant Mid-Atlantic (Mirant) on the one hand and the U.S. EPA, Department of Justice and the states of Virginia and Maryland on the other. The settlement, announced on May 8, 2006, involved the elimination of nearly 29,000 tons of pollution in its four coal-fired electrical plants in Maryland and Virginia.

Under settlement terms, Mirant will cap NOx emissions on a system-wide basis from its Chalk Point Generating Station in Maryland, Dickerson Generating Station in Maryland, Morgantown Generating Station in Maryland, and its Potomac River Generating Station in Virginia. To meet these objectives Mirant will install pollution control equipment at its Potomac River and Morgantown power plants, and may also install controls at their other sites. According to Mirant, the company will be installing Flue gas desulfurization (scrubbers) to reduce sulfur dioxide (SO2) that will be operable by 2010.[17] The EPA notes that Mirant will install and operate two Selective Catalytic Reduction devices to control for NOx emissions at its Morgantown facility, as well as Separated Over-Fire Air technology at the Potomac plant.

Mirant also paid a $500,000 civil penalty, which was divided between Virgina and the U.S. government. Additionally, Mirant will spend at least $1 million on nine separate projects to reduce fine particulate matter (PM) from its Potomac River Generating Station. "The reductions in NOx emissions required by this settlement will result in general improved air quality throughout the metropolitan area and the surrounding region," said Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "Today's settlement is evidence of the continued progress that we are achieving through the cooperative enforcement efforts of federal and state agencies."

NOx contributes to the formation of acid rain and also increases low-level ozone, which causes smog, and fine PM causes haze.[18]

Permit violations found at plant in 2011

On May 6, 2011, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality determined that the plant must pay $275,500 in civil penalties to the state for numerous permit violations, including excessive visible emissions and failing to submit documentation of emissions monitoring. The fine was part of a consent order with GenOn Energy, which merged with Mirant in December 2010. The facility was determined "to not be in compliance with several conditions of their state-operating permit issued on July 31, 2008,” according to the DEQ. The violations included operating failures to control emissions, using inappropriate fuel and improper emissions controls, among other violations. Several of the new monitoring systems were installed as part of an agreement among the city, the plant and community activists’ work, and yet the new systems had operational failures. Many of the administrative steps in the consent order were designed to get the system working properly.[19]

In February 2012, GenOn was fined $280,700 for exceeding its nitrogen oxide limit six times between June 28 and July 18 of 2011, according to a consent decree between the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board and GenOn.[20]

Citizen groups

Articles and Resources


  1. "EIA 860 February, 2020" EIA 860, february 2020.
  2. "Coal-burning plant in Alexandria fined $208K for air-quality violations in 2011" Washington Post, February 15, 2012.
  3. For example, see "Polluter Holiday," National Wildlife Federation, accessed August 20, 2011.
  4. http://alexandriava.gov/news_display.aspx?id=51390,] City Of Alexandria website, Communications & Public Information, City News Releases, August 30, 2011, accessed August 30, 2011.
  5. "The Toll from Coal: An Updated Assessment of Death and Disease from America's Dirtiest Energy Source," Clean Air Task Force, September 2010.
  6. "Technical Support Document for the Powerplant Impact Estimator Software Tool," Prepared for the Clean Air Task Force by Abt Associates, July 2010
  7. "Mount Vernon volunteers engaged in GenOff campaign"' Mt. Vernon Sierran, accessed July 18, 2011.
  8. Daniel Douez "D.C. mayor scolds Alexandria power plant" Alexandria Times, July 18, 2011.
  9. "Mayor Vincent C. Gray Says District Government Concerned Over High Sulfur Dioxide Emissions from Alexandria Plant" Press release, Executive Office of the Mayor, Washington D.C., July 8, 2011.
  10. Activists Raise 18-Foot Inflatable Inhaler to Highlight Health Impacts of Alexandria’s Coal-Fired Power PlantAction Alexandria, Aug. 18, 2011.
  11. "Alexandria coal plant could be retired without affecting power reliability," American Clean Skies Foundation, July 20, 2011.
  12. "Potomac River Generating Station: Update on Reliability and Environmental Considerations" Analysis Group, July 19, 2011.
  13. "American Clean Skies Foundation Unveils Potomac River Green Project," Businesswire, August 10, 2011
  14. "From Power Plant to Civic Renewal Centerpiece," New York Times, April 24, 2013
  15. Potomac River Green, accessed August 20, 2011.
  16. Michael Lee Pope "Coal Versus Gas: Natural gas industry proposes getting rid of Alexandria’s coal-fired power plant," Alexandria Gazette-Packet, Aug. 18, 2011.
  17. "Chalk Point Generating Plant," Mirant's Chalk Point Generating Plant, accessed November 6, 2009
  18. "Clean Air Act Settlement to Eliminate Almost 29,000 Tons of Harmful Emissions in Virginia and Maryland," U.S. EPA, May 8, 2006
  19. Christy Goodman, "Coal-burning power plant fined $275,000" Washington Post, May 12, 2011.
  20. "Coal-burning plant in Alexandria fined $208K for air-quality violations in 2011" Washington Post, February 15, 2012.

External Resources

Related GEM.wiki articles