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Energy & Environment

Two Coal Plants in Prince George’s County Will Shut Down By Next Year

Chalk Point Generating Station in 2007. Wikipedia Commons photo

The operator of two coal-fired power plants in Aquasco, in southern Prince George’s County, plans to retire the plants on June 1, 2021.

GenOn Holdings Inc. is shutting down its 55-year-old Units 1 and 2 at Chalk Point Generating Station because of “unfavorable economic conditions and increased costs associated with environmental compliance,” according to a news release this week. Both have 670 megawatts of electric generating capacity combined, making Chalk Point the largest coal plant in the state.

The official word about Chalk Point comes after GenOn shuttered its coal operations at the power plant in Dickerson, in Montgomery County, on Thursday. Lawmakers and environmental leaders hailed the news.

“The closing of the Dickerson and Chalk Points coal-fired power units are the latest in a long market trend away from burning dirty coal and towards efficient clean energy,” Del. Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery), chairman of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, said in a statement.

Barve was chief sponsor of the legislation in the last General Assembly session that would have expedited the retirements of all six coal plants in Maryland.

“While the decline of the industry is happening at a frenetic pace, some of these plants remain online and are still dumping heavy pollution in Maryland’s air,” he said. “The time is now to pass legislation to break free of coal and incentivize cleaner resources while investing in creation of family supporting jobs in technologies like energy storage and grid upgrades.”

Electricity generation from Chalk Point power plants have been declining over the past decade. Between 2010 and 2019, Chalk Point’s coal-fired plants were producing 88% less electricity. In the first six months of 2020, the two units produced 80% less electricity output than in the first six months of 2019, said David Smedick, the senior campaign representative for the Beyond Coal and Dirty Fuels Campaign of the Sierra Club.

After a 90-day reliable review period by Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Maryland (PJM) Interconnection, a regional transmission organization, GenOn Holdings will begin a “decommissioning process and a step plan reduction in the workforce at the Chalk Point site.” The company said it will provide severance payments and access to health care to all affected employees.

GenOn Holdings will continue to operate its other non-coal power plants at Chalk Point, which have 1,600 megawatts generating capacity.

“Now, impacted workers and communities that have been subjected to the environmental and public health risks caused by these units have less than 11 months to prepare for this impact without robust full fossil fuel transition support programs in place, all during a global pandemic and economic crisis,” Smedick said. “Maryland urgently needs a statewide, coordinated plan to manage the inevitable transition off of dirty coal to clean energy.”

In May, GenOn Holdings had announced that it would retire its coal-fired plant at Dickerson. The Dickerson coal-fired power plant went through a 90-day reliable review period by PJM Interconnection and then began its retirement on Thursday.

“The closures of Dickerson in my Senate district and now Chalk Point, were not surprising,” Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery) said in a statement. “As Maryland transitions off of coal, it is our responsibility to lead a conversation among all stakeholders to develop a thoughtful transition plan for the sake of the workers, ratepayers, and vulnerable residents who suffer from adverse health effects caused by these facilities.”

Maryland’s six coal-fired power plants generate less than 10% of the electricity sold in the state. Last year was the lowest electricity output year for coal in Maryland, but coal plants were responsible for 79% of the nitrogen oxide pollution, which helps produce smog, from in-state power plants, Smedick said.

GenOn Holdings has one more coal plant in Maryland, Morgantown Generating Station, which is the state’s second largest coal-fired plant. It is in Newburg in Charles County.

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Two Coal Plants in Prince George’s County Will Shut Down By Next Year