Major Coal Plant to Close, Transform into Green Community?


Photo credit: cliff1066 via Flickr/CC BY

Good news from Alexandria, Virginia: Its dirty GenOn coal plant, which has drawn the ire of residents and activists, is shutting down next year. The plant had failed to comply with Clean Air Act standards for years, and occupied some of the city's prime waterfront space to boot. A recent report confirmed that the plant wasn't necessary to provide power to the region, and a group called the American Clean Skies Foundation drafted an inspired re-envisioning of the waterfront area currently hogged by the dirty plant. The public was on board, and soon a deal was cut to rid the nation of yet another of its polluting, inessential power plants.

It's hard to say how much that plan, which outlined how the coal plant could be transformed into a sustainable mixed-use community called Potomac River Green, influenced the deal eventually reached to put it out of commission. But it was certainly a boon. ACSF's aim was to capture the public's imagination with a tangible alternative to a repulsive, smoke-belching eyesore, and that seems to be precisely what happened.

I stressed that notion when I first covered the Potomac River Green plans: those seeking a change from status quo policies (environmentally destructive or otherwise) too often rely just on pointing out how bad a particular practice is. Hell, I'm guilty of precisely this in my reportage here at TH -- we say 'Coal kills'. Or 'Coal causes global warming'.

Coal is bad. You get it. So what do we do instead? Solar panels? Sure. Cool waterfront spaces, even? Absolutely. But let's see it, let's paint in detailed strokes what that alternative looks like, feels like. This is something that ACSF seemed to grasp. Greg Staple, the group's CEO, said in a statement, "We are delighted by GenOn's decision. Closing the plant will save lives, improve public health and substantially reduce air pollution in the Washington area. We look forward to working with the city to open up the riverfront to the public and make this site a clean energy showcase and job creator. Once GenOn did the math, it looks like the company came to the same economic conclusion we did: This site is simply more valuable for other uses."

Here's some more background on the project, which aims to do what you see above:

The Potomac River Green concept includes a vibrant riverfront park and a clean energy and technology center as well as approximately 600 new LEED-certified homes and over 200,000 square feet of office and retail space. It would create more than 2,200 jobs (including construction and site remediation), and produce over $70 million in new tax revenues.
Coming up with detailed blueprints like this will be an essential strategy in closing other dirty metropolitan coal plants around the nation. But for now, a big congrats to Alexandria: Your city is about to get cleaner, healthier, and possibly, a lot more fun to live in.

More on Closing Coal Plants
Multiple US Coal-Fired Electricity Generating Plants Closing
The Greenpeace Coal Plant Protest and the Next Wave of Climate Activism

Tags: Coal | United States

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