Nearby residents have long expressed concerns about the health effects of pollution from the Potomac River Generating Station (PRGS). In 2003 and 2004, studies by the City of Alexandria concluded that emissions from the plant violated National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) established by the Clean Air Act. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has also charged the plant with pollution violations.
To reduce some of the most harmful pollution, in 2008, the City of Alexandria and the owner of the plant entered into a settlement agreement requiring the PRGS to install additional control technologies. The main upgrade – a fabric filter or ‘baghouse’ to control soot – has not been put in place yet, however, pending engineering work and contract negotiations.
Much of the history between the plant, regulatory authorities and the citizens of Alexandria is recounted on the Mirant Community Monitoring Group’s webpage dedicated to the Potomac power plant. This citizen group was set up in the last decade in order to advise the City. You can view their records here.
In July 2011, Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray also voiced concern over the high levels of sulfur dioxide emitted by the PRGS and the adverse effect this may have on D.C. residents. Gray says he may petition the Environmental Protection Agency to shut down the plant, provided this would not affect reliability of the District’s power supply.
On July 20, ACSF released a report by the Analysis Group, which found that the PRGS could be retired without impairing D.C.’s power supply once transmission and substations upgrades are completed in 2012. The report also concludes that retiring the PRGS would result in immediate benefits to the local community through an overall reduction in harmful air pollution and a substantial fall in greenhouse gas emissions.
The sustained community interest in an alternative to the PRGS is reflected by a new coalition of local citizens and environmental groups led by the Sierra Club. The coalition is called GenOff Potomac.
In July 2011, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign received a major boost when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $50 million to help transition to cleaner energy sources. Bloomberg held a press conference to announce this new partnership overlooking the Potomac River Power plant. There he said “let the operators of the Gen-On” plant know “that change is coming.” You can read his remarks here.