Two plants in Maryland using coal, oil and natural gas to produce electricity will stop using coal as an energy source.
NRG Energy, owner of the Dickerson Generating Station in Montgomery County and the Chalk Point Generating Station in Prince George’s County, plans to “deactivate” the coal-fired units at both plants by June 2017.
NRG sent notice of its plans to regional grid operator PJM Interconnector Dec. 2, ahead of a capacity auction scheduled for May, PJM spokesman Ray Dotter said. Each year PJM auctions the rates it will pay generators for being available if and when called on to produce power.
Dotter said a power company must notify PJM when it wants to retire or deactivate a plant. Notices like the one NRG gave typically indicate the owner expects to and likely will shut down and not operate the plant, he said.
NRG could change its mind or even revise its plans to expedite closure, Dotter said.
NRG East Region spokesman David Gaier said looming state regulations for coal-fired plant emissions precipitated the company issuing the notice.
Gaier said the regulations will likely require NRG to install expensive upgrades for processing emissions.
The Dickerson plant is capable of generating about 849 net megawatts, according to the NRG website. Gaier said the plant, which employs about 200 people, produces 546 megawatts from coal.
Maryland Department of the Environment spokeswoman Samantha Kappalman said talks have only just begun on the regulations, which are part of Maryland’s Healthy Air Act, the toughest power plant emission law on the East Coast. When the regulations will go into effect remains unknown, she said.
Across the country, coal plants are shutting down.
But before NRG can stop using coal, the grid operator must study if the grid can handle the loss.
Dotter said PJM has 90 days to evaluate the impact the closure would have on the grid and determine if upgrades are necessary before the plant can shut down its coal units.
PJM can request a plant remain open longer to ensure any necessary upgrades are made and the system avoid disruption, but because NRG has given about three years of notice, any upgrades will likely fit in their window for closure, Dotter said.
Dickerson, which first went online in 1959, is one of seven plants in Maryland that still use coal to produce energy, according to the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.