Just outside D.C., there’s an iconic battle underway, pitting the dirty old 20th century vs. the clean, green urban 21st century.
Here’s the deal: Just south of Reagan Airport, on the Virginia shore of the Potomac River, sits the Potomac River Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant. The PRGS is everything terrible about the U.S. coal fleet wrapped into one toxic whole: It’s 60 years old, past its planned lifespan. It doesn’t have any modern pollution controls. It runs at 20 percent capacity, but that’s enough for its pollution to kill 37 people and cause over 600 asthma attacks every year. It has been fined as recently as May of this year for numerous violations of its Clean Air Act permit. And to boot, this ancient, filthy piece of history is squatting on 25 acres of incredibly valuable urban land.
The obvious solution is to shut it down. D.C. Mayor Vince Gray expressed some reservations about doing so until a research firm called the Analysis Group issued a report finding that the plant could be shut down without threatening the reliability of the area’s electricity supply. As a bonus, it would cut CO2 emissions by 600,000 tons every year and sharply reduce the incidence of ground-level NOx and SO2 during the unhealthy summer months. Now Gray is “leaning” toward closure.
But how could Alexandria, Va., replace what is, after all, an economic asset? Well, the American Clean Skies Foundation is all over that. It just released a plan called Potomac River Green, which would replace the plant with a residential and commercial development, a revitalized waterfront, and (the kicker) an energy museum/education center, all of it built to LEED standards.
The demolition, remediation, and development would cost around $450 million but would produce myriad social and economic benefits, as detailed in this technical report [PDF]. Whereas the power plant supports about 150 jobs, the development project would create a total of 2,205 new jobs. Between 2015 and 2024, the project would drive over $1.53 billion in new direct spending in the region and boost city and state tax revues by $27 million. That’s quite an improvement on an ugly, soot-belching eyesore parked on the shore.
This is a no-brainer. Particularly in growing urban areas, smart infill development simply provides more enduring value than crappy old power plants. The American Clean Skies Foundation also has a paper on that, called “Repurposing Legacy Power Plants” [PDF]. It reviews eight case studies of power plant repurposing projects and shows that there are at least 20 more coal-fired plants in urban areas in the U.S. that are ripe for demolition and redevelopment, everywhere from Los Angeles to Denver to Atlanta to Madison. As Grist readers know, a wave of new and upcoming EPA regulations puts financial pressure on old coal plants anyway. The cities harboring them would do better to get ahead of the game.
I’m sick of bad news. D.C. area residents, can you get your sh*t together and get this thing done?