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50-year-old Maryland power plant to stop burning coal in 2027

A 50-year-old power plant in Charles County is the latest in Maryland to announce its plans to stop burning coal in the years to come.

The coal-fired units at the Morgantown plant, which is run by GenOn Holdings, will be deactivated in 2027, the company said. The plant still will generate energy using natural gas and oil.

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GenOn’s decision to eventually stop using coal was welcomed by environmentalists.

“The state came into 2020 with six coal-fired power plants without clear end dates for their operations when it comes to burning coal,” said David Smedick, senior campaign representative of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “Throughout this year, we’ve had five of the six power plants now very publicly announced their intention to retire.”

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GenOn also shut down coal-fired units at its Dickerson plant in Montgomery County earlier this year, and announced its intention to do the same at its Chalk Point plant in Prince George’s County by June 1. Plus, two plants in Anne Arundel County recently announced they’d stop burning coal by the end of 2025.

“These retirements reflect the sentiment of the citizens of Maryland, and will facilitate a smooth transition for GenOn’s employees and the communities in which we currently operate,” GenOn CEO Dave Freysinger said in a statement.

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.

While coal burning at the Morgantown plant is poised to continue longer than at many other plants in the state, Smedick said the Sierra Club still is pleased with the announcement.

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“We want to see climate action as quickly as possible. We know that we need to move off coal as quickly as possible. And we’ll hold everybody accountable for their pollution in the coming years,” Smedick said. “But ... to know that it’s going to end is important.”

The Potomac Riverkeeper is another group that has monitored pollution at the site.

“Potomac Riverkeeper supports GenOn’s decision to close Morgantown’s coal fired units, with the expectation that the company will conduct a full cleanup of coal pollution at the site as part of its plan,” said Dean Naujoks, Potomac Riverkeeper.

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.”

Officials from the Houston-based power plant operator did not respond to a request for comment on any clean-up efforts.

GenOn said in its news release that it is backing legislation that would put deadlines for shutdowns into law at each of Maryland’s coal-fired power plants.

The legislation has been pre-filed for the 2021 General Assembly session by Sen. Chris West, a Baltimore County Republican, and Del. Ben Brooks, a Baltimore County Democrat.

“We are glad to see GenOn providing a timeline for this shift in their operations at the plant,” West said in a statement, “and will be sure our legislation reflects this commitment from the plant owners.”

That bill would require the two Anne Arundel plants — Brandon Shores and H.A. Wagner — to cease operations by Oct. 1, 2025. It also would compel the Warrior Run coal-fired power plant in Cumberland to shut down by Oct. 1, 2030. That plant, owned by Arlington, Virginia-based AES Corp., has not announced an end date for coal-burning.

“At Warrior Run, we are evaluating how we can continue to deliver on our contracted commitments to Potomac Edison, which run through 2030, while also supporting Maryland’s responsible energy transition in compliance with state and federal laws,” wrote Peter Bajc, the plant manager for AES Warrior Run, in a statement.

The bill also would create a Fossil Fuel Community Transition Fund and a Fossil Fuel Transition Advisory Council with the goal of lessening the economic effects of transitioning away from coal.

A similar bill proposed by West and Del. Kumar Barve, a Democrat representing Montgomery County, fell short during last year’s legislative session. But the legislature has passed into law a requirement that 50% of the state’s energy come from renewable sources by 2030. In 2019 meanwhile, 11% of the power generated in Maryland came from renewable sources, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Charles County Board of Commissioners President Reuben B. Collins II said in a statement that the county is eager to be at the table as legislators in Annapolis craft plans to transition away from coal.

“We want to be at the table when a ‘just transition’ plan is adopted to ensure that the lost revenue (commercial tax dollars in excess of $8.5 million) will be replaced with a plan to retrain the present workforce, and focus on renewable energy alternatives,” Collins said.

The string of recent announcements from coal burning plants in Maryland highlights the need for the General Assembly to pass the bill, Smedick said.

“It showcases the renewed urgency that I think a lot of people feel for action from the General Assembly leaders in 2021,” Smedick said.

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