NRG settles with Maryland over water issues at two coal-fired plants

The Maryland Department of the Environment said Aug. 29 that two NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG) subsidiaries accused of violating permits and polluting the Potomac and Patuxent Rivers will pay a $1 million penalty and take steps to protect and restore the environment under an agreement filed in federal court.

Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles said that NRG Chalk Point LLC and GenOn Mid Atlantic LLC, which operate the Chalk Point and Dickerson power plants, respectively, also will perform $1 million in environmental projects and upgrade wastewater treatment plant technologies at the coal-burning facilities under the agreement. Maryland, the plant owners and other parties to the case filed a joint motion in federal court to enter a consent decree that contains the agreed settlement of alleged violations of the plants’ water discharge permits. The court entered the consent decree on Aug. 26.

“Power plants have a responsibility to keep Maryland’s rivers, skies and lands clean as they strive to provide affordable and reliable energy,” Grumbles said. “This strong enforcement action includes a stiff penalty, improved nitrogen pollution prevention technology at the plants and significant investments in projects to protect the health of our priceless Potomac and Patuxent rivers.”

The Chalk Point station on the Patuxent River in Prince George’s County, and the Dickerson station, on the Potomac River in Montgomery County, exceeded the annual limits in their discharge permit for nitrogen from 2010 to 2013, according to a complaint filed by the Maryland department in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. The alleged permit violations occurred after SO2 scrubbers were placed into operation in 2009 at the facilities to remove such air pollutants as SO2 and mercury and otherwise comply with the Maryland Health Air Act.

Problems with the equipment designed to treat wastewater from that process led to excess levels of nitrogen discharged to the rivers, according to the complaint. Excessive amounts of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus lead to lowered levels of oxygen needed to support aquatic life in waterways, including the Chesapeake Bay. Chalk Point LLC and GenOn Mid Atlantic are installing about $5 million in technology upgrades at each of the two plants to maximize treatment of nitrogen and will add monitoring systems to wastewater treatment operations.

The consent decree includes, in addition to the requirement that the owners pay a $1 million cash penalty, stipulated penalties for failure to timely meet obligations or for exceeding interim nitrogen limits. Under the consent decree, the plant owners will perform “supplemental environmental projects” valued at $1 million to benefit the Potomac and Patuxent watersheds.

The department will propose renewal permits for the plants under a public participation process. The permits to be proposed will include nitrogen limits to regulate the performance of the new wastewater treatment plant technology being installed as shown by a pilot study and a new facility-wide cap on total nitrogen protective of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.

The consent decree was filed with the court July 6. Because the suit that led to the consent decree included claims under the federal Clean Water Act, the agreement was subject to a 45-day review period by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The decree affects two coal-fired units, with capacities of 355 MW each, at Chalk Point. At Dickerson, it covers three coal units of 182 MW apiece.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.