Alexandria power plant closes

The GenOn Power Plant closed under an agreement between city officials and Houston-based GenOn Energy.

A power plant that has towered above the Potomac in Alexandria for 63 years was shut down at midnight{ }Sunday.

“I feel very elated,” said Poul Hertel, one of two Alexandria residents who organized an effort questioning the plant’s safety about a decade ago.

Hertel showed ABC7 dust he had saved for over eight years. He says it was a constant source of irritation – and he believes health issues – that residents of his north Alexandria community near the plant had to deal with.

"It was a question of don't ask, don't tell,” Hertel said about initial power plant and government responses to health concerns. “We asked and when we got the answer, they just couldn't shy away from it. It turned out to be really, really dangerous for people's health."

Hertel and fellow Alexandria resident Elizabeth Chimento paid for testing he says showed ash from the plant was falling in the area around his neighborhood at an alarming rate.

He says since the plant is near Ronald Reagan airport, its smoke stacks are shorter than most plants so planes don’t collide with them. As a result, he says, the plant did not do a good job of dispersing pollution high into the air. Instead, he says too much of it fell back to earth in the neighborhoods near the plant.

Other local residents agree there was a big problem.

"If the wind blew in the wrong direction -- I live on the 14th floor – [the dust] blew directly into my room," said Larry Harms, who lives in a high-rise condo building next to the plant on the Potomac. “Even if it was a nice day, and I wanted to leave the door open, I had to close it. Because the smoke would come in the room."

Hertel’s wife Connie Graham believes the pollution caused her lung problems.

"I have to take medicine the rest of my life, and it can be very [difficult] at times to even breathe properly," Graham said.

A spokesperson with plant owner GenOn tells ABC7 the primary reason the company is closing the plant involves the current cost advantage of running a natural gas plant instead of a coal burning one like the plant in Alexandria.

She also says now that the company is shutting down, it will get $32 million back that was being held by the city of Alexandria to pay to reduce pollution at the plant.

But the spokesperson says a study showed over 95% of the dust residents complained about was not ash from the plant.

Hertel says the study residents paid for showed very different results, and calls the idea that ash from the plant wasn’t a big problem “insulting.”

The GenOn spokesperson says the plant closure will cost 120 jobs. She says many of the plant’s former employees were able to transfer to other open jobs within the company.

One lingering question for residents: what will replace the plant?

There are no immediate plans to tear it down, but many residents expect some sort of development to one day be built on the valuable waterfront property.

One issue that could complicate matters – GenOn says although it owns the actual power plant, Pepco owns the land it sits on, and Pepco will continue to operate a separate substation on the property that provides the District with power.