Assembly bills, communities fight impact of power plants in Prince George's

smokestacks.jpgThe impact of a cluster of polluting fossil fuel power plants on children and neighborhoods has sparked bills in this Assembly session in response. A Maryland Matters report and independent research provided to the Progressive Maryland BlogSpace fleshes out this instance in which environmental racism and profit are causing officials to look the other way.



 

Assembly bill would prohibit new fossil-fuel power plants in Prince George’s County

By Elizabeth Shwe<>Maryland Matters

There are four power plants within 13 miles of Brandywine, an unincorporated town in southern Prince George’s County. Other industrial hazards such as a sand and gravel mine and a fly ash landfill also exist in the community, which helps explain the dozens of diesel trucks that pass through the town on a daily basis.

More than 70% of Brandywine’s population is Black. Some residents call it an environmental sacrifice zone for Maryland and the Washington, D.C., region — and Maryland lawmakers are trying to change that.

The Prince George’s County Stop Environmentally Unjust Coal and Gas Plants Act of 2021, a bill proposed by the Prince George’s House delegation, would preclude the Maryland Public Service Commission from permitting any more coal or gas fired power plants to be constructed in Prince George’s County.

House Bill 613 had originally prohibited any power plants to exist in Prince George’s County altogether, but Del. Julian Ivey (D-Prince George’s) said the delegation is working on amending the bill so that it is “prospective legislation rather than retroactive” and allows current energy generating facilities to continue operating.

“For the time being, it would draw the line and say no new coal or gas power plants would be allowed in Prince George’s County limits,” Ivey told the House Economics Matter Committee Thursday.

“As we’re doing the work of moving away from fossil fuels, moving towards renewable energy, this is really just one iteration of that fight,” he continued.ecoblast.jpg

There are currently three energy generating facilities in Prince George’s County.

Ivey said the bill has not been voted out of the Prince George’s delegation, but he plans to push for a vote on it next week.

James Lawson, a resident of Accokeek, referred to a 2019 health assessment published by the county health department and the University of Maryland and said residents in southern Prince George’s County have been found to suffer from higher rates of respiratory illness, which Lawson blamed on the power plants in the region.

“Prince George’s County should not be should not be a place where every polluting undesirable industry project is welcome,” Lawson said. “Prince George’s County has more than its share of power plants and the resulting adverse health effects.”

A fifth proposed power plant in Brandywine, which would have only been half a mile from the town’s elementary school, recently withdrew its application, Henry Cole of Clean Air Prince George’s told lawmakers.

But this is not enough, as there is nothing to prevent other companies from coming in and proposing another fossil fuel power plant, he said. “The southern part of Prince George’s county has become an environmental sacrifice zone.”

On the other hand, some labor unions and the Public Service Commission said the legislation would harm energy reliability for the state. Maryland depends disproportionally on energy produced outside of the state, according to Lisa Smith, the legislative director of the Public Service Commission.

Since power plants cannot be quickly replaced by renewable energy sources, the measure could compel Maryland to purchase more energy out of state, including from power plants that burn coal, Jeff Guido, Maryland director of the Baltimore-D.C. Building Trades Council said.

“You can generate electricity for your house with solar panels, but it’s only on a small scale. You cannot store solar energy on a large scale,” said Tom Clark of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “All I ask is wait until the technology catches up before we close these power plants down.”

Clark also highlighted that the Chalk Point facility, one of the four power plants close to Brandywine, is used as an emergency electrical station for PJM, the regional transmission organization for East Coast states.

The Public Service Commission also contended that shutting down existing power plants would have significant reliability costs, as the generating facilities in Prince George’s County currently make up one quarter of the state’s total generation capacity, according to Joey Chan of the PSC.

“Taking this much generation offline is bound to raise serious reliability concerns and given what we saw happen in Texas, the concerns can lead to devastating consequences,” he said.

[State environmental groups, noting that the PSC has refused to include climate considerations in its assessment of decisions, are touting a separate bill, “Consideration of Climate and Labor Act” (SB 083 / HB 298). A Chesapeake Climate Action Network summary says that the bill

If the Prince George’s delegation amendment, which would allow existing power plants to continue operating, is approved by the county delegation, Chan said PSC would probably take no position on the remainder of the bill.

Still, Smith cautioned the Economic Matters committee about the bill’s implications for future energy reliability.

“It’s important to think long and hard about this type of legislation that would stop certain types of generation,” she said. “We know the public relies on the PSC as a regulator to ensure safe, reliable and affordable service.”

[email protected] -- Published February 26.


Research conducted on the proposed Brandywine Gas Power Plant by Yves K. Brady and made available to Progressive Maryland’s BlogSpace elaborates:

Prince George’s County has 4 fossil fuel power plants that are currently operational within its borders:

  • Brandywine Power/KMC Thermal - a gas power plant in Brandywine
  • Chalk Point - a combination coal/oil/gas plant in Aquasco
  • CPV St. Charles - a gas plant in Waldorf
  • PSEG Keys Energy Center -  a gas plant also in Brandywine

smokestacks.jpgThe fifth fossil fuel power plant to grace Prince George’s and third to operate in Brandywine may very well be constructed and operational by the end of 2021 if public pressure does not keep the plant from full operation. The Texas-based company, Panda Energy LLC, received a permit in 2015 to build what is now called the Panda Mattawoman Power Project - a 990-megawatt power plant fueled by fracked natural gas which would be the biggest plant the County has approved thus far. This plant would be located at 14175 Brandywine Rd, Brandywine, MD 20613, less than a mile from Brandywine Elementary School. 

Construction of the plant would lead to a subsequent pipeline which would carry the gas 7 miles through Prince George’s and Charles County from the existing line in Cove Point. Building this pipeline would require the dewatering of Zekiah Swamp and Mattawoman Creek watersheds. This means the draining of about 6 million gallons of water which would eventually be returned after the project is finished. Panda Energy LLC, however, has not explained how or when they will replace the drained water. The line would also cross 19 wetlands and streams after construction. It would cut through Cedarville State Forest near Joseph Manning Hatchery - a prime Maryland location for fish breeding.

A power plant such as this causes several problems to a community -- the largest of which is a drastic decline in air quality. Natural gas from this plant would emit a dangerous mix of ozone and particulate matter. The Environmental Protections Agency (EPA) has already determined that Prince George’s County in general, and Brandywine in particular, has levels of ground level ozone that are above legal limits and unhealthily high. High concentration of particulate matter is linked to asthma attacks and heart, lung or other respiratory ailments. According to the 2016 Community Health Assessment facilitated by the County Health Department, respiratory issues are the top cause of emergency room visits in Prince George's County. 

The plan for the plant has been underway for several years now, but is taking quite a while to begin construction due to heavy opposition from local environmentalists. Brandywine which holds a population of just under 7000 residents, is 72% Black. Trends of putting high polluting facilities in low income or black majority communities has not escaped the residents of Brandywine. Both Patuxent Riverkeeper and Brandywine TB Coalition have filed a federal civil rights complaint early May of 2020 that has slowed down production on the plant. They argue that a plant like this would do more harm to the immediate area, especially school children, than the benefits that come from cheaper nonrenewable fuel.

Methane, which is the primary component of natural gas, is known to be 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide for global warming. Neither plants nor pipelines are foolproof and leakage is detrimental to land, waterways, and human health. It, and large fossil fuel plants similar, are also a soon to be irrelevant method of energy production. In 2012, DC and Virginia combined closed 3 power plants because they simply weren’t being used. The Chalk Point power plant in Aquasco was studied to be running at only 13% capacity in 2015. 

There are plenty of alternatives to fossil fuel plants if energy is needed in the greater Prince George’s area. Wind power is now cheaper to build than new gas-fired power plants. Meanwhile, solar is quickly becoming the cheapest form of energy and will likely undercut all other energy sources within the next five years. Much of the pull for plants such as these is job creation, but Panda Energy LLC has already explained that while the construction of the plant may bring hundreds of jobs, once construction is finished the facility will only employ 30 people. Natural gas is generally the worst job creator in the energy sector—it is ranked dead last according to Clean Air Prince George’s.

--Yves K. Brady