Both Sides Pack Air Board Hearing

Both Sides Pack Air Board Hearing

PEPCO and DOE discuss Mirant’s necessity.

Once again the conflicting elements and opinions concerning the continued operations of Mirant's Potomac River Generating Station (PRGS) were on display during a packed house public hearing of the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board Tuesday night at the Holiday Inn on Eisenhower Avenue.

At the conclusion of the four hours of testimony by both sides there was no clear solution, except that Mirant's necessity as a vital component of the District of Columbia's electric reliability lifeline may be approaching flat line status as of July 1. That was the essence of testimony from both Pepco and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) representatives.

"DOE is interested solely in having sufficient electricity supplied to central DC. The department maintains that Mirant's Potomac River Generating Station is necessary to maintain power reliability in central DC," said Kevin Kolevar, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

"Completion of the new Pepco lines will provide that reliability. After that the need for DOE involvement in this issue will cease," he said. "We will instruct Mirant to continue to operate under the DOE order through the month of June."

The present DOE operating order expires July 1.

That statement brought forth the hearing's only verbal confrontation. Board member Hullihen Williams Moore challenged Kolevar by asking, "What has DOE done in the past 17 months to create a more permanent solution to this problem?"

Kolevar responded that the Blue Plains Sewage Treatment Plant is no longer depended on Mirant power to continue its operations. That was not the case 17 months ago, according to Kolevar. Removal of that dependency relieves the power reliability on central DC and prevents a power outage from causing raw sewage to flow into the Potomac River, Kolevar explained.

As for Pepco, they urged the Board to allow the Mirant plant to operate until all four new transmission lines are completed and operational. "The City's (Alexandria) position is inconsistent with all others. Any order that conflicts with the DOE order should be avoided until the four new transmission lines are fully operable," according to Pepco's representative.

THE BOARD brought their meeting to Alexandria to receive statements, pro and con, concerning the operating permits for the PRGS. Presently, Mirant is operating with an interim permit. A new agreement is being negotiated with Alexandria, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Mirant, and DOE.

The regular meeting of the Board was scheduled to take place on Wednesday, May 23, at the Holiday Inn. At that session the City and Mirant would formally present their cases as well as comment on testimony presented Tuesday. The three main elements pertaining to the Board's Mirant deliberations apply to the proposed Consent Order; Alexandria's proposed order; and the proposed operating permit's time span and content. The Board's purpose for the public hearing was to gather input for their decision-making process, according to Board Chairman Richard D. Langford.

Due to the fact that the Board meeting and public hearing occurred on two consecutive days it is unlikely the Board will make any decision before it has time to review and evaluate the testimony presented at the public hearing.

"This issue is of concern to everyone throughout the metropolitan region. We have acted responsibly on making sure that we are on top of this issue," said Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille kicking off testimony for the City.

"We have tried to work with Mirant but we are losing patience with them. We need a comprehensive permit that will cover all contingencies. And, we need a solution to this problem as soon as possible," Euille said.

He was followed by City Councilwoman Redella "Del" Pepper who noted, "In all my years of public service, I have never seen a more serious health problem as that posed by Mirant. The people here today at this hearing are only the tip of the iceberg."

According to Pepper, "There are about 12,000 people living within a mile of the plant and nearly 25,000 people within 1.5 miles. Nor have I seen such an aversion on the part of a corporate citizen to do what is right for its neighbors and the community."

That was countered by Robert E. Driscoll, senior vice president of Mirant Corporation. "We believe Mirant has provided responsible contributions to the community's well being. The proper question before the Board is how to issue a reasonable permit to allow the plant to continue operating," he said.

"The Potomac River plant is a critical provider of power to prevent brownouts and blackouts. I urge the board to approve the Consent Order. It protects the grid and it calls for stack merger which would greatly improve the downwash situation," he said.

Driscoll's testimony was supported by a series of Mirant employees who had also participated in a pre-hearing gathering at the San Antonio Bar & Grill in preparation for their input to the Board.

"What concerns me is that the parties don't seem to be concerned about reaching a reasonable solution. The DEQ order is just that — a reasonable solution," said Victoria Gross, a PRGS employee who said her mother still lives in Alexandria near the plant

THE HARSHEST criticism leveled at the City from a Mirant employee came from Gordon Smith, an engineer who has worked at power plants for the last 30 years including PRGS. "There is no downwash issue according to the models. The City's air quality proposal is nothing more than a smoke screen to close the plant," Smith insisted.

His testimony was countered by Elizabeth Chimento, one of the two founding citizen members, along with Poul Hertel, of efforts to close the Mirant plant. "What should have been a scientifically respectable and straight forward approach to immediately protect public health has, instead, resulted in an elongated series of obstructions which have insured continued corporate profits at the expense and neglect of public health," Chimento said.

"From changing standard EPA approved modeling methodologies, to arbitrarily using partial and scattered monitoring devices ... which give the Mirant plant the unheralded and signal distinction of being the only facility in the US using such an unorthodox operation, it is clear that the status quo has been maintained while public health has remained at risk," she said.

Other items brought up by various speakers on both sides of this controversy included: the proposed stack merge suggested by Mirant to presumably reduce downwash; the issuance of a "comprehensive" State Operating Permit to address compliance with National Ambient Air Quality Standards; and whether or not there is, in fact, a health hazard posed by PRGS and, if so, what type and to whom.

All these elements now await the Board evaluation and decision.