Pa. power plant, long a thorn in N.J.’s side, to close by 2015

    In a move applauded by New Jersey environmentalists, the company that runs the Portland Generating Station in Northampton County, Pa., announced Wednesday it plans to close the power plant by January of 2015.

    It is one of six power plants Houston-based GenOn plans to retire in Pennsylvania and New Jersey between this June and April 2015.

    They are closing because it would be too expensive to retrofit each of the plants to meet new environmental regulations, including a rule reducing mercury emissions and air toxins for coal-fired power plants, company spokesman Mark Baird said.

    The capital investments required, Baird said “are not economic at the forecast market conditions.”

    New Jersey officials and residents have long complained that the 53-year-old coal-fired power plant — located right across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania — is one of the Garden State’s biggest sources of pollution.

    The plant emits about 30,000 tons of sulfur dioxide a year, more than all the power plants in New Jersey combined, said Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. The impact of the shuttering of the plant, he said, would be enormous.

    “It would immediately have a great step of making our air cleaner and improving public health,” Ragonese said.

    But Ragonese said he is worried about the three years until that scheduled closure.

    Last fall, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered the plant to reduce its sulfur-dioxide emissions by 81 percent within three years, and 60 percent by the end of this year, a decision Houston-based GenOn is appealing.

    “Do they not intend to reduce emissions by 60 percent this year? We don’t know that answer,” Ragonese said.

    A representative of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said the lawmaker is concerned about the closure of the plants and will be looking for a solution to retain jobs in the region.

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