The Day After A Coal Plant Closes

by Robert Gardner

October 2, 2012

Greenpeace Semester students and local volunteers display a sign in front of the Potomac Generating Station in Alexandria, VA protesting coal-fueled power plants.

Brian Johnson

Greenpeace Semester students and local volunteers display a banner in front of the Potomac Generating Station.

Im from Virginia. Dumfries, Virginia to be exact. Virginia is coal country. I grew up with our local coal plant destroying air quality, poisoning the water, and bringing those long coal trains to town. Though the Possum Point Generating Facility switched to natural gas some time ago, there are still a lot of legacy issues — at least the coal trains dont come anymore.

But that facility isnt whats on my mind right now.

Yesterday marked the official retirement date of the coal-fired power plant in Alexandria, Virginia the Potomac River Generating Station, also known as the “Mirant Plant” (after the old owners).

A miraculous thing happened today. Though the plant is shut down, the power is still on, the sky hasnt fallen, all hell didnt break loose, and we all woke up and went about our business.

While today’s sense of normalcy is cut with the knowledge that the air in the metro DC area will be much cleaner, I wonder when the propaganda slingers will be held accountable.

For years, the plants owners spun yarns about how anarchy would grip the region if this plant ever shut down. Surely the lights in DC would go out. The military would grind to a halt. Power prices would go through the roof. Wed all be in big trouble.

Well that didnt happen. And if we plan appropriately, we can shut down every coal plant in this country and re-power America with clean, renewable sources of electricity.

But we’ve got to get to work on it.

Yesterday’s victory is the culmination of a lot of work by a lot of people. But make no mistake, this victory was the result of sustained citizen activism in Alexandria. Liz Chemento and Poul Hertel started the fight against this plant. Think about it — with just two people they formed a kernel of resistance against a huge corporation and shut it down. That’s community power. It’s brought us the clean air of today.

If it can happen here, well, it can happen just about anywhere.

For 62 years this plant was the largest single source of pollution in the metro region. Its stacks fouled the air of Virginia, Maryland and DC. It’s boilers burned the pulverized spoils of strip mining in Central Appalachia — specifically Kayford Mountain.

But that’s all done now. The stacks are quiet. The boilers are cold.

Though theres still a good deal of remediation that needs to happen to make that site habitable — coal piles, underground oil bunkers, outflow pipes, and even a sturgeon breeding area I feel confident that with leadership like Liz and Paul around, we can be sure that that site will be cleaned up.

All told, today, I’ll breathe a little bit easier knowing that Virginia has one less coal plant.

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