Over background sound of an earthmover on the 15,000-ton coal pile, Alexandria elected officials Monday morning celebrated the closure of the 63-year-old coal-fired power plant that sits on the city’s waterfront.
“Everyone should take a deep breath,” urged City Council member Del Pepper (D), who helped lead the effort. “It’s over and it’s closed.”
For more than a decade, residents and community leaders fought to shut down the GenOn (previously Mirant) power plant. A year ago, the company, which provides power to Maryland, the District and other mid-Atlantic locations, but not northern Virginia, agreed to shut down today.
Rep. James Moran (D), who represents the area and is a former Alexandria mayor, noted that the plant is “one of 200 dinosaurs built before 1960 and exempt from the Clean Air Act.” The plant emitted carbon dioxides, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides and 72 pounds of mercury into the air each year, he said, when “one-seventh of a teaspoon of mercury dropped in a lake can poison that lake.”
Moran urged local residents to become the leaders of a national movement to close down the remaining coal-fired power plants in the nation, and join a movement to stop mountaintop mining of coal.
Mayor Bill Euille (D) cited a 2008 deal between the city and Mirant to limit the plant’s pollution, which resulted in “immediate and significant improvements in air quality.
“This is truly a success story brought about by a collaboration of our community and city government,” he said.
The two civic activists who started the movement were among the crowd of city staffers, environmental activists and media outside the GenOn gates. Elizabeth Chimento and Poul Hertel said they were pleased by the shutdown. Hertel, who last year said “the cork is in the champagne bottle until everyone signs off” on the shutdown, laughed at the reminder, and said he hasn’t popped a bottle of bubbly yet.
“It’s more like a marathon runner crossing the goal line,” he said. ”It’s very very satisfying to finish.”