The owner of two coal-fired power plants in Maryland will not stop using coal at its Montgomery and Prince George’s County plants as soon as originally planned.
NRG Energy, owner of the Dickerson Generating Station in Montgomery County and the Chalk Point Generating Station in Prince George’s County, just over the line from Benedict, said ongoing discussions with the state about new regulations for air quality have led it to delay “deactivating” its coal-fired units at the plants by one year, to May 2018, NRG East Region spokesman David Gaier said.
“Basically what I’m saying is that while Maryland hasn’t given us complete certainty about the future, we’ve had stakeholder meetings and discussions with the state, (principally MDE) and based on them, we have enough certainty at this point to delay the deactivation dates of those coal units by one year,” Gaier said.
The company originally planned to stop burning coal at the plants in May 2017 because of looming state regulations.
Environmentalists are urging the state to keep the pending regulations strict in an effort to lower the amount of smog and sulfur dioxide the plants can produce.
Only five of the 13 coal plants in Maryland use technology to cut air pollution, according to the Sierra Club.
David Smedick, of the Beyond Coal Campaign and Sierra Club representative, said the state has some of the worst air on the eastern seaboard.
“We have really, really bad smog in the state and the health problems associated with these are stark,” he said.
Montgomery County, he said, is among the 12 jurisdictions in Maryland that fail to meet federal health standards for smog pollution. Coal plants, he said, are some of the biggest contributors to air pollution.
Maryland’s Department of the Environment still is in the process of drafting new regulations aimed at improving air quality.
The department is scheduled to release a draft of regulations Sept. 8 to a review board known as the Air Quality Control Advisory Council. The 15-member council includes members from industry, labor, professional associations, local and regional governments, academia, farming, the medical community and the general public.
Smedick said recent language provided to the Sierra Club suggest the state is responding to industry pressure for looser regulations.
“At one of the more recent stakeholder meetings, they didn’t go back on the regulations, per se, but there’s potential there,” Smedick said. “We’ve seen more influence from big coal on some language introduced since.”
Smedick said the Sierra Club is worried there could be loopholes in the final regulations that coal plants can use to avoid doing its part. So the Sierra Club launched a social media campaign in June to increase pressure from its side.
The campaign featured volunteers wearing orange masks to illustrate the harmful effects air pollution has Marylanders’ health. On hot days, Smedick said the pollutants create ground level ozone that prevents those with respiratory illnesses like asthma from even going outside.
“What we are trying to do is put a face to the fact that people are fed up with suffering, and that they need strong health-protective regulations,” he said.
Adrienne M. Diaczok, an MDE spokeswoman, said the agency has been in contact with environmental organizations, health advocates and the power plants affected by the rule.
“We are listening to all parties,” she said. “The regulation will require what we believe is necessary to allow Maryland to meet its clean air requirements.”
Diaczok said the latest draft of the regulations will be available before the Sept. 8 meeting but were not available online as of Gazette deadline.