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Scrapbook: Triple Victory for Clean Air in Virginia

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September 06, 2011

Triple Victory for Clean Air in Virginia


Last week the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign celebrated two—really three—huge victories in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

On August 30, the City of Alexandria and GenOn Energy announced that they'd reached an agreement to permanently close GenOn's Potomac River Generating Station by October 1, 2012. The plant, which began operating in 1949, is a major source of air pollution for Alexandria and surrounding communities. The announcement of its closure is highly symbolic, as the plant is located smack across the river from the nation's capital.

Two days later, on September 1, Dominion Resources, Inc., Virginia's largest utility, announced that it will phase out or convert two of its oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants. The Yorktown and Chesapeake plants will shut down in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

The two announcements came less than six weeks after New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg stood with Sierra Club leaders on a barge in front of the Potomac River plant and announced his $50 million gift to the Beyond Coal Campaign.


That's Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, Beyond Coal Director Mary Anne Hitt, Bloomberg, and Deputy Conservation Director Bruce Nilles, above. Below, U.S. Representative Jim Moran, who represents Alexandria in Congress, addresses the crowd on the barge, with the GenOn coal plant across the river.


The Beyond Coal Campaign has been actively engaged in Virginia since 2003, and the Club's work to retire these three plants stretches back even further. The Chesapeake and Yorktown plants are the 96th and 97th coal plants to accounce retirement since January 2010.

"This is another critical win for the residents of Virginia," says Brune. "The Chesapeake and Yorktown plants are a major source of pollution in coastal Virginia, and the decision by Dominion to responsibly phase them out means kids will have the opportunity to breathe cleaner air. Local activists and everyday Virginians have been working for years to ensure that plants like these get cleaned up or phased out; today they all celebrate this victory."

Chesapeake and Yorktown are two of the worst polluters in the region, with Chesapeake alone pumping out more than 3 million tons of carbon pollution each year. The two plants also emit tens of thousands of tons of soot and smog pollution annually, which can trigger asthma attacks, respiratory illnesses, and contribute to heart disease and other ailments.

"This is a tremendous victory that will result in more than 3,000 megawatts of coal pollution being retired or replaced by cleaner energy sources in a single state," says Sierra Club Beyond Coal representative Mark Kresowick, below at left, celebrating Dominion's announcement with northern Virginia Sierra Club volunteers on September 1.


"This builds on the fantastic work of the Virginia Chapter," Kresowik says. "It wasn't long ago that Dominion started construction on one of the last new coal-fired power plants in the United States, in Wise County, Va., and now they're proposing to retire more than twice the capacity of that plant in Virginia alone." Below, Virginia Chapter Director Glen Besa, one of the Club's mainstays in the battle for clean energy, at the Bloomberg event last month.


"We're extremely pleased that Dominion will be retiring the 50-year-old Chesapeake and Yorktown plants," says Besa. "By phasing out these two plants, Dominion has ensured that electricity rates won't rise due to costly investments in outdated energy sources. It's now important that we use the retirement timeline of these plants to retrain their workforce and create clean energy jobs, which we could accomplish with offshore wind in the Chesapeake."

Alexandria-based Sierra Club organizer Phillip Ellis, one the Club's movers-and-shakers in galvanizing public support for retiring GenOn's Potomac River plant, says more than 400,000 residents of northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., have been directly at risk from the more than 700 tons of sulfur dioxide and 725 tons of nitrogen oxides the plant releases into the air annually. Below, an Alexandria rally Ellis organized with the Sierra Club's traveling giant inhaler.


"We're pleased to see that GenOn is taking steps to retire this plant as soon as possible," Ellis says. "A recent study shows that the reliability of our energy will not be affected by the Potomac plant's retirement. Not only is this plant unnecessary, it's contributing to illness on both sides of the Potomac. We're glad to see that it will be taken offline as soon as possible."

Learn more about the Sierra Club's work to move Virginia and the rest of the United States beyond coal and spur our transition to clean energy.


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