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Southern Maryland coal-fired power plant to close in 2022, five years ahead of schedule

HARRISBURG, PA. — The owner of the Morgantown coal-fired power plant in Charles County will close next year, five years ahead of the previously announced date for shifting to a natural gas facility.

Houston-based GenOn Holdings LLC said it will shut down two generating units at the Morgantown Generating Station on the Cobb Neck peninsula by June 2022. It also plans to close generating units at both Avon Lake station on Lake Erie near Cleveland, Ohio, and Cheswick station on the Allegheny River outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, by Sept. 15.

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Combined, the four coal-fired units can provide up to 2,421 megawatts.

In a statement, GenOn blamed “unfavorable economic conditions, higher costs including those associated with environmental compliance, an inability to compete with other generation types and evolving market rules that promote subsidized resources.”

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In December, the company announced it would deactivate the 50-year-old power plant in Charles County by 2027, and shift to generating energy using natural gas and oil.

GenOn shut down coal-fired units at its Dickerson plant in Montgomery County last year, and announced its intention to do the same at its Chalk Point plant in Prince George’s County by this month.

The owners of Brandon Shores and Herman Wagner in Pasadena said they would stop burning coal by the end of 2025.

Coal power has fallen out of favor in the climate change era amid a push for cleaner power sources that produce less pollution and greenhouse gases. U.S. coal production has been in steady decline, down by about one-third over the past decade.

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Coal also has been buffeted by a flood of cheaper natural gas from shale formations, including the vast Marcellus Shale reservoir underneath Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.

Over the past decade, throngs of power plants in the United States have retired their coal-powered operations amid increased competition from natural gas and renewable energy and tightened emissions standards, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which is tracking the retirements.

Shutdown of the units is subject to a 90-day reliability review period by the regional electric grid operator PJM, GenOn said.

The company did not discuss cleanup around the plan as part of its announcements.

A 2019 Maryland Department of the Environment inspection, for instance, found that the plant “failed to minimize the contamination of surface water runoff from areas adjacent to disposal ponds or landfill.”

Rick Hutzell and Christine Condon contributed to this article.

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