Company to Shutter One of Dirtiest Power Plants Ahead of Schedule

NRG's Pennsylvania unit major contributor to air pollution in New Jersey

One of the dirtiest power plants affecting New Jersey’s air quality will shut down six months earlier than originally scheduled.

In a consent decree signed with New Jersey and Connecticut, NRG Energy agreed to cease operation of two coal-fired generating units at its Portland plant in Mt. Bethel, Pa. in June 2014.

The agreement, which is subject to review and approval by federal authorities and the U.S. District court in eastern Pennsylvania, ends a lawsuit brought by New Jersey and Connecticut, which alleged that the plant failed to comply with federal Clean Air standards.

Princeton-based NRG acquired the Portland plant last December when it completed its purchase of GenOn Energy. Previously, GenON had agreed to shutter the Portland facility by January 2015, as well as a smaller plant in Glen Gardner.

Since the acquisition, NRG has been involved in negotiations with both New Jersey and Connecticut, according to Lee Davis, president of NRG’s East Region. “As part of the settlement, we committed to make a significant investment in projects that are beneficial to the environment consistent with NRG’s focus on providing power in a way that is environmentally responsible, reliable, and affordable,’’ Davis said.

NRG is looking at what to do with all of its coal-fired fleet, which it acquired from GenOn, focusing on whether to convert the units to natural gas, according to David Gaier, a spokesman for the company. No decision has been made on the Portland plant, he said.

The Portland plant, a 579-megawatt facility located across the Delaware River from Warren County, has long been the target of state and federal environmental authorities. According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the plant emitted in 2009 twice the amount of sulfur dioxide than all other power plants in New Jersey. Sulfur dioxide is a pollutant that contributes to acid rain.

Under the consent decree signed with the two states, NRG has agreed to fund $1 million in environmental mitigation projects, details of which have yet to be worked out, according to Gaier.

Environmentalists welcomed the news of the earlier plant closing. “It’s a good thing they are closing the plant; it was one of the biggest polluters in New Jersey,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, which had joined the state and federal lawsuit to close down the plant.

“This is a big win for the residents of New Jersey and clean air,’’ said Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the DEP. ‘’The power plant for too long emitted sulfur dioxide and other pollutants at levels that are unhealthy for our residents.’’

Enactment of tough new federal laws to curb mercury and air-toxic pollution from power plants has spurred many energy companies to decide to shutter facilities, saying requirements to install expensive new equipment to reduce emissions makes operating of the units uneconomical.

With the steep drop in natural gas prices, even those coal plants that have installed sophisticated pollution controls less frequently.

R.C. Cape May Holdings, LLC recently announced plans to convert a power plant that runs on coal and oil to natural gas. The plant is located in Beesley’s Point, 15 miles southwest of Atlantic City and highly visible from the Garden State Parkway.