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Feds Order Mirant Start Up

Despite problems, power station ordered to start-up.

As of Jan. 9 air quality over Alexandria came into question once again as Mirant's Potomac River Generating Station fired up at least three of its five boilers in response to an order from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The order was made in response to a letter dated Jan. 4 by William M. Gausman, vice president of Pepco, informing the federal agency that Pepco has filed notice of the planned outages for circuit maintenance during the month. The outage of the first of two circuits was scheduled to begin Jan. 9, according to Gausman. All the planned outages are scheduled to be complete by Jan. 28.

Pepco's letter was triggered by the Dec. 20, 2005 ruling by DOE that if they planned any outages they were to first notify DOE in order for them to determine how to protect the region's "electric reliability."

On that date DOE Secretary Samuel W. Bodman ordered Mirant's Old Town generating plant to remain prepared to cover any and all contingencies of a potential power shortage to the Washington, D.C.

MIRANT HAS 10 DAYS to submit a plan to DOE, detailing the steps it will take to ensure compliance and the time necessary to start up the plant's generating units in the event of a planned or unplanned outage."

Mirant submitted two options for consideration. The first would allow Mirant to operate one baseload unit and two cycling units. The company explained that it would take approximately 28 hours to restore the entire plant's operations. They also maintained that no national ambient air quality standards would be exceeded.

A second option would result in a marginally exceeding of the air quality standard for one pollutant.

In a letter, Kevin M. Kolevar, director of the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability for the DOE, directed Mirant to implement their first option.

Kovelar also reminded Lisa Johnson, president of Mirant Potomac River, which the DOE would work with the EPA to verify that air quality standards would not be exceeded.

The DOE's order to restart Mirant boilers based on Pepco's request, was severely criticized and protested by both the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the City of Alexandria in separate letters to Bodman.

Each raised doubts about Pepco's timing of their "planned" circuit maintenance.

"'Pepco's intention to take the transmission lines out of service for maintenance as early as Jan. 9, 2006, is in flagrant violation of DOE's order,'" wrote DEQ director Robert G. Burnley. "'Pepco has refused to take available measures to ensure that the outages minimize the environmental effect of operating the plant.'"

Burnley concluded his letter by stating that DEQ demands the DOE order a postponement of Pepco's planned outages until such time as the Potomac River Generating Station has installed. With the station's installation, pollution control equipment can be operated to ensure that emissions from the plant do not injure the health and safety of the state's residents. DEQ announced they had appealed the Pepco request to DOE citing health concerns. DEQ plans to have inspectors on site at Mirant throughout planned outage time period.

ALEXANDRIA RESPONDED to DOE, emphasizing that if Mirant proceeded with the startup, it would ensure air quality violations at the excessive levels that existed prior to the closure of the plant in August 2005.

Writing for the city, attorney John B. Britton, Schnader Harrison, Segal & Lewis, reminded Bodman, that the DOE had not responded to Alexandria's request for a full and open public scrutiny and comment process on Mirant's proposed plan. As of the morning of Jan. 10 this was still the case.

"'Alexandria will pursue all available legal remedies to hold all pertinent parties accountable for violations of law and the consequent harm and injury to the residents of Alexandria,'" Britton wrote.

In a previous letter to Bodman dated Dec. 22, Britton had requested "public disclosure of documents and materials" related to DOE's order of Dec. 20. He also questioned DOE's judgment in allowing "the region's electricity suppliers and regulators" to have "allowed the security of the nation's capital (for electric power) to rely on the PRGS (Potomac River Generating Station)."

He based his Dec. 22 request on the opinion that "There is nothing in the Order to suggest that the ‘emergency’ is such that Mirant's plan should be shielded from public scrutiny." That remains the City's position.

On Jan. 9, the DOE received the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's support for their order. The District of Columbia Public Service Commission has also involved FERC in the entire controversy through a petition.

"Today, the Commission acts under its Federal Power Act authority to assure an effective long-term solution that maintains a reliable and sound electric power grid for the region," Kelliher stated in a press release. He also noted that FERC's action complemented an emergency order issued by DOE requiring Mirant to operate as needed to meet demand if key transmission lines serving Washington, D.C. were out of service.

FERC directed PJM Interconnection and Pepco to file a comprehensive plan within one month outlining the "operation, planning and construction of transmission facilities to address the current reliability risks to the system." In FERC's opinion reliability standards "are not being met" and the regional power grid "is compromised."

MIRANT MAINTAINS that they are only following government orders.

"There is a lot of focus here on what Mirant is doing and there should be more focus on what the government is doing," said Steven L. Arabia, director of External Affairs for Mirant Mid-Atlantic. "This is not in our hands. We are providing information that we are asked for. DEQ is not talking about what we are doing they are talking about what Pepco is doing."

Arabia said everything Mirant is doing has been approved by the appropriate state and federal agencies.

Almost as an aside to the entire controversy, Mirant's lawsuit against the City of Alexandria opened Jan. 10 in Alexandria Circuit Court. The suit stems from actions by the Alexandria Planning Commission and City Council in 2005 to revoke Mirant's special use permit for a portion of the plant making it a non-conforming use.

Mirant has claimed that revoking the permit was done arbitrarily to force the plant's demise by denying it certain operational facilities.