Source: http://www.mcall.com, May 15, 2013
By: Peter Hall
The owner of a power plant in Upper Mount Bethel Township has agreed to stop burning coal as part of a settlement in a lawsuit by two downwind states over air pollution.
NRG Energy, which acquired the Portland Generating Station last year in a merger with GenOn, will shut down two coal-fired generating units by June 2014 as part of the settlement with New Jersey and Connecticut, the company said in a statement Wednesday.
The settlement means most of the 65 jobs at the plant will disappear next summer, rather than in January 2015 as previously expected. A “skeleton crew” will remain to operate and maintain three natural gas-fueled turbines at the site, NRG spokesman David Gaier said.
NRG also agreed to invest $1 million in environmental projects in New Jersey and Connecticut as part of the settlement. The environmental investment could come in the form of pollution credits or in environmental remediation projects to be identified by New Jersey and Connecticut, Gaier said.
New Jersey and Connecticut filed a lawsuit in 2007, alleging breaches of the federal Clean Air Act. The states claimed operators of the plant violated the Clean Air Act by failing to make required improvements to reduce pollution when the plant was modernized.
“We agreed to settle to avoid the expense of an uncertain litigation that could have continued for years to come,” Gaier said.
But the agreement, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, provides for the possibility for the plant to continue as is. It allows NRG to burn coal at the plant if federal agencies and PJM Interconnect, which operates the power grid, determine it is necessary to ensure reliability.
NRG can also convert the plant to burn natural gas or other fuels. Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club said that is cause for concern.
“We are glad they are stopping coal but we should be closing this plant permanently,” Tittel said. “Getting rid of coal is good but they should not replace it with natural gas; they should replace it with clean renewable energy.”
Gaier said no decision has been made on whether to convert the Portland plant to an alternative fuel.
The plant dates to the 1950s and has been operated by a succession of energy companies, including Metropolitan Edison, Reliant Energy, GenOn Energy and Dynergy Inc., each of which was named as a defendant in the suit.
Earlier this year Met-Ed was released from the litigation.
U.S. District Judge James Knoll Gardner in Allentown ruled in March that the alleged violations by Met-Ed, which operated the plant from 1958 until its sale to Reliant Energy in 1999, fell outside a five-year window to bring a lawsuit.
Gardner further ruled that the state attorneys general failed to show they have evidence to prove that Met-Ed concealed violations or misled the states.