City cancels deal with trash-burning power plant

No deal: Baltimore city cancels contract with controversial trash-burning power plant

Baltimore's spending panel agreed Wednesday to terminate the city's contract with the developer of a trash-burning power plant in southern Baltimore.

The five-member Board of Estimates, controlled by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, voted unanimously to cancel its agreement with Energy Answers to buy electricity from a facility planned on the site of a former chemical plant in Fairfield. Coming on the heels of a similar cancellation by the city school system, the contract termination deals a significant setback to the controversial project.

Rawlings-Blake, whose administration has steadfastly supported the project, said she could no longer abide the developer's failure to make progress in building it.

"The concept I support," she said. "The implementation, or the lack of implementation, none of us can support."

The project, said by the developer to represent a $1 billion investment, has been backed by labor unions, some neighborhood leaders and many local elected officials — including Rawlings-Blake. It promised to support hundreds of construction jobs and up to 180 permanent positions. But the project has been dogged by opposition from environmentalists and some nearby residents, and has shown little or no progress since Energy Answers declared it was ready to start construction in fall 2010.

A call to the Albany, N.Y., headquarters of Energy Answers and an email to its chairman and CEO went unanswered.

Rawlings-Blake said Energy Answers failed repeatedly to meet benchmarks in the contract the city had signed in April 2011, pledging to buy electricity from the plant. She said the city's action was part of a broader decision made last month by the Baltimore Regional Cooperative Purchasing Committee to cut ties with the project.

Baltimore had joined 21 other local governments, school systems and nonprofits four years ago in agreeing to buy a total of 25 megawatts worth of electricity from the plant when it was built.

"It's missed deadlines to secure permits and to establish financing. It missed deadlines to begin construction and to deliver energy," the mayor said.

Greg Sawtell of United Workers, a group that worked with project opponents, said Wednesday's vote was a significant win for the community, particularly students at Benjamin Franklin High School and Curtis Bay Elementary School. "This shows that when communities organize, our voices can be heard," he said.

The students, along with environmental activists, have campaigned for months to get local officials to cancel their deals with Energy Answers, arguing the project would increase air pollution in communities already dealing with the region's worst air quality. State environmental regulators had granted the project a permit, but then ordered construction halted last year because the developer had failed to take required steps to offset the facility's projected air emissions.

City school officials also are informing Energy Answers that they are terminating their contract to buy power from the project, said Cheryl Casciani, a school board member. Board members were informed of the decision at Tuesday night's meeting, she said.

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