As expected, the vote was unanimous on all three items related to the operation of Mirant Mid-Atlantic’s Potomac River Plant. At its December public hearing last Saturday, the City Council voted to revoke a special use permit for Mirant’s office building on N. Royal Street and the attendant transportation management plan. Also, the council passed an ordinance making all coal-fired power generating plants (Mirant is the only one in the city) non-conforming uses subject to abatement.
“This is going to pass unanimously so anyone who wishes to forego speaking is encouraged to do so,” said Mayor William D. Euille before the public hearing on the items began. “Council’s actions regarding the Potomac River Plant speak for themselves. We have simply been waiting for this special use permit revocations to come before us so that we could take this action.”
Nonetheless, a number of speakers chose to encourage council to take the action that it took. “I want to thank council and the city staff for their excellent work on this matter,” said Mary Harris, speaking for the Marina Towers Condominium Association. “I have some pictures of plumes from the Potomac River Plant. Usually, they come toward us but one of our residents caught a picture of plumes heading toward Old Town. This plant obviously needs to be closed.”
Chuck Linderman, the director of energy policy for the Edison Electric Institute, said “It is my job to advocate for coal-fired plants and for those who produce electric power.”
“Council has stated that they want to protect the citizens of Alexandria but they are about to pass legislation that does not do that. In 2005, the power grid is going to change. The Virginia Corporation Commission has elected to become part of the PJM grid and that will mean that the Potomac River Plant will produce more local power.
“If council really wants to do something it should look into purchasing green power. I pay additional money to purchase green power from Pepco instead of purchasing power from Dominion Power. If council wants to be environmentally responsible it should examine this option,” Linderman said.
HARRY HART, representing Mirant, said, “These two special use permits have nothing to do with the environmental concerns about the operation of the plant,” he said. “The office building was built in 1989, replacing trailers on the site. The transportation management plan was required to ensure that traffic flowed smoothly. Revoking these two special use permits, in my opinion, will have an adverse impact on the plant and will cause more traffic as people have to drive from another location to the plant. Also, Mirant has never been cited for any violations of these particular special use permits. Normally, there would be a citation and a discussion of what measures to take to remedy the violation.
“Here, you are basing a revocation on old data — Mirant has already settled that alleged violation with Virginia and the federal government. We believe that this is not appropriate and does not address the issue of concern to council,” Hart said.
City attorney Ignacio Pessoa explained the legal rationale for the SUP revocations: “The office building is integral to the operation of the plant and these people do not drive here because it is a nice destination."
When the votes were cast, Euille’s prediction was accurate. “It is the responsibility of local government to protect our citizens,” he said. “By our actions today, we have taken one more step toward doing that.”
There is a timetable in the ordinance that gives Mirant seven years to amortize the power plant and close it. During that time, Mirant can request an extension or go to court.