A coal-fired power plant on the Potomac River near Old Town Alexandria that has drawn environmentalists' scorn for decades will shut down next year under an agreement between city officials and a Houston-based power company.
The Potomac River Generating Station, owned by GenOn Energy, Inc., began operation in 1949. In more recent years it was forced to scale back its operations to comply with the Clean Air Act.
Environmental activists in Alexandria and across the Washington region have sought to shut down the plant for years, saying it produces toxic emissions in violation of federal law.
Under an agreement between the city and GenOn announced Tuesday, the company has agreed to retire the plant by Oct. 1, 2012. In exchange, Alexandria will release $32 million that the company had paid into an escrow account that was to have been used to improve pollution controls at the plant.
Chris Spera, an assistant city attorney for Alexandria, said Tuesday that the money in the escrow account would have soon been spent if GenOn had decided to keep the plant open. Spera said city officials had suggested to the company that perhaps they would rather have the $32 million returned and retire the plant rather than spending the money to improve a decades-old plant.
A GenOn spokeswoman did not return calls seeking comment, but company Chairman and CEO Edward R. Muller said in a statement that "retiring the facility next year makes sense for GenOn, but it is a difficult decision given the impact on the approximately 120 employees who work at the station."
The closure will take place by October 2012. But government regulators could insist the plant, once owned by Pepco, stay open longer if needed for the reliability of the electric grid. Spera said that as a practical matter, the city thinks it's unlikely that regulators will insist on keeping the plant open.
The towering red-brick plant, located off the George Washington Memorial Parkway, is a familiar site at the edge of Alexandria's historic Old Town neighborhood. It has increasingly seemed out of place as new office buildings, townhomes and condos have transformed an area that once was more industrial. A nearby railroad switching yard has largely been redeveloped in recent years.
Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., who represents Alexandria in Congress and supported closing the plant back when he was the city's mayor in the late 80s, praised the move.
"The extinction of this dinosaur of a facility is heartily welcomed," Moran said.