Community Turns Out on Capitol Power Plant Concerns – Wells Looks at Legislation to Ban Coal Burning in DC
by Larry Janezich
Almost 150 people turned out last night at United Methodist Church for Councilmember Wells’ community meeting on a permit requested by the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) to build two new cogeneration systems at the Capitol Power Plant (CPP). The expansion could increase the level of emissions of the plant over the output of recent years, and continue the use of coal as a fuel – under limited circumstances. Although invited to attend, the AOC declined to send a representative, leaving Steve Ours of the DC Department of Energy (DOE) to answer questions about what is currently at the facility, what the request for expansion entails, and what the community would get when it’s done.
Wells opened the meeting, summarizing the situation to date, and announced he was “looking at legislation to ban the use of coal in DC. We don’t want to interfere with the conversion, but this is the only place in DC which burns coal.” Such legislation would have to survive a veto by Congress.
Steve Ours explained that the construction of the new systems would eliminate the right the CPP now has to burn as much coal as they want in the plant’s two largest boilers, and cited the increased efficiency and the lessened need to draw electricity – which is produced by coal fired plants elsewhere – from the grid.
One of the major issues for the community is that the AOC wants to define its limits on emissions as those the plant experienced during the cold winters of 2007 – 2008, rather than the emissions in recent warmer years. Steve Ours held out some hope that the baseline emission standard could be based on later years, further restricting the use of coal.
Nearby residents of the plant voiced their belief that it is ridiculous that in 2013, the plant has to rely on fossil fuels. The Sierra Club’s Jim Dougherty cited the suspicion that coal was continuing to be used for symbolic purposes under pressure from members of Congress from coal producing states. He named specifically former Senator Byrd of West Virginia and current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell from Kentucky. Other environmentally active groups, including Greenpeace and the Energy Justice Network were also represented in the audience. ANC6B Commissioner Ivan Frishberg urged the DOE to look at legal questions regarding health impacts on the neighborhood and nearby schools and urged Congressional consideration of the use of solar page.
Wells asserted that “this neighborhood is not going to be a symbol for either side,” but stated he would not be part of a decision which will keep a coal-burning plant in DC. “That’s why we need to address this issue with legislation,” he said. “I don’t want to retain the capacity to burn coal, because you never know who is going to be in government who wants to make a symbolic point of burning coal.”