Major power producer backs shutdown of all Md. coal plants

Source: By Arianna Skibell, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, December 22, 2020

One of the nation’s largest independent power producers has announced it is closing a coal plant in Maryland and is throwing its weight behind a bid to phase out coal-fired generation in the state entirely.

GenOn Holdings Inc., a Houston-based firm, said it plans to retire its Morgantown Generating Station in southern Maryland by 2027, marking the firm’s third closure announcement this year.

The company is also backing a bipartisan bill requiring all of Maryland’s coal-fired generating units to shut down by 2030. As of 2019, approximately 14% of the state’s electricity came from coal. The measure includes a provision to support impacted coal workers and communities, mirroring a national push to support workers and economies suffering from coal’s decline.

“These retirements reflect the sentiment of the citizens of Maryland, and will facilitate a smooth transition for GenOn’s employees and the communities in which we currently operate,” Dave Freysinger, the company’s CEO, said in a statement.

Colorado and New Mexico have enacted similar “just transition” bills, and President-elect Joe Biden has called for a federal push (Energywire, Nov. 3).

“GenOn’s support of this bill is huge and greatly enhances the likelihood it is going to pass,” said state Del. Ben Brooks (D), who is co-sponsoring the proposal with Republican state Sen. Chris West. “What we want to do in the state of Maryland is get 50% of our energy from renewables by 2030, and this is going to go a long way in helping that.”

The retirement of Maryland’s Morgantown plant could cost the state over $8.5 million in commercial tax dollars, according to Reuben Collins, the president of the Charles County Board of Commissioners. Collins said the proposed transition bill will allow his county to prepare.

“We want to be at the table when a ‘just transition’ plan is adopted to ensure that the lost revenue … will be replaced with a plan to retrain the present workforce, and focus on renewable energy alternatives,” he said in a statement. “This will potentially reap economic development benefits for the future.”

Lawmakers had introduced the measure earlier this year, but the Legislature adjourned early over COVID-19 concerns before the bill could advance. The proposal to phase out the state’s six remaining coal-fired plants was adamantly opposed by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1900, whose union members stormed the Maryland Capitol in protest.

The IBEW did not respond to requests for comment for this article, but former chapter President Jim Griffin called the measure a nonstarter earlier this year. “Those bills were essentially written by the Sierra Club,” he said (Energywire, June 24).

Brooks said lawmakers had been in conversations with the AFL-CIO about the proposal and an IBEW spokesman said he expected his union along with the AFL-CIO to issue a press statement, but did not disclose whether the unions would back the measure or fight against it. The United Mine Workers likewise did not respond to requests for comment.

David Smedick, a campaign representative with the Sierra Club who has been active in supporting the measure, said he hopes the unions will come to the table in January when the lawmakers formerly introduce the bill.

“Hopefully we get additional feedback in the next few weeks,” he said.

He said the support from GenOn and its planned retirements marks the end of a “pretty historic” year for Maryland’s energy sector.

“We entered 2020 as a state with six coal-fired power plants without commitments to deactivate, and we’re leaving 2020 with five of the six having either formally retired or announcing intentions to retire,” he said. “We need 2021 to be the year the General Assembly formalizes this and locks in those commitments.”

GenOn retired the coal-fired Dickerson Generating Station this year, putting 60 people out of work, and recently announced the closure of its Chalk Point unit by June of next year. The company plans to continue operating existing gas- and oil-fired units at Morgantown, Chalk Point and Dickerson.

The Brandon Shores and H.A. Wagner units operated by Raven Power are slated for retirements by October 2025. Only the Warrior Run Generating Station has not announced a phaseout. The proposed bill would require its closure by 2030.