The American Clean Skies Foundation took steps Wednesday toward the transformation of the north end of Old Town and its waterfront. As part of an ongoing endeavor to retire the 62-year-old coal-fired electricity plant, the Washington, D.C. nonprofit released a $450 million plan that would reconstruct the site by around 2017.
“Ambitious, but possible,” ACSF Chief Executive Greg Staple told a group of reporters at the National Press Club.
The plan, called the Potomac River Green, includes residential, retail and commercial space, as well as a “21st century energy museum,” Staple said. The museum would be a micro-generation plant and support the building’s energy needs through geothermal, solar, fuel cell and micro-hydro power.
The GenOn power plant is based in Alexandria, but provides electricity across the river to D.C. and it rarely operates at capacity.
But, this plan hinges on a few key players, the plant’s owner being one. Asked whether GenOn had signed off on the plan, Staple said the “short answer” was “no.” However, he said GenOn currently sees the aging plant as “an impaired asset,” meanwhile waterfront property value has gone up in recent years to about $4 million per acre.
“Somewhere in there, there’s a deal to be done,” he said.
Secondly, as two City Council leaders attested, any plan to retire the plant and replace it with residential and commercial development will not be executed without “extensive public comment,” Councilman Rob Krupicka said.
Councilwoman Del Pepper said, “It has been, and is now, our long-term goal that the plant is closed down.” But, due to a $34 million agreement that the power plant take added measures to reduce its emissions, Pepper said she could state little else on behalf of the city. “We’re welcoming any concepts that agree with our long-term plan,” she said.
“The sooner the long term happens, the better,” Krupicka added. “The health of our community, and the health of our region warrants that change.”
Prior to ACSF’s redevelopment plan, Analysis Group did a study to answer the question, would D.C. still receive sufficient electricity should the GenOn plant be shut down?
Sue Tierney, from the Analysis Group, said this question was asked in 2005 and the answer then was no. However, transmission upgrades have been made, and now, according to Analysis Group, the lights would stay on in D.C. if the plant were shut down.
“The grid operator doesn’t want to operate this plant very much,” Tierney added. “It’s very inefficient.” Also, of the plant’s five units, some operate “almost never,” she said.
Still, from an environmental standpoint, Staple said the GenOn plant—at 20 percent capacity—uses 400,000 tons of coal and emits 1.1 million tons of carbon dioxide.
“It’s a commitment to cleaner generation and a better environment,” Staple said.
The proposed plan revealed Wednesday was hailed as another opportunity to move Alexandria toward sustainability. David Kitchens of Cooper Carry, the architectural firm that designed the Potomac River Green, said the plan “wasn’t just all about closing a coal plant.” Instead, he said, the proposal will allow the north end of Old Town to “refind its soul.”
For now, however, the $450 million plan still needs a willing developer. According to Staple, he’s talked to “a number of developers” and is optimistic that a viable deal can be struck. He noted a statement from Cherokee Investment Partners that said, “Depending on the terms of the investment, in a market like Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., this project is definitely of interest to us.”
For more information about the proposed plan, visit potomacrivergreen.com.