The operator of the largest coal-fired power plant in Maryland has agreed to stop burning coal in support of legislation that would transition the state away from coal in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

GenOn Holdings, Inc. announced that it would cease operations at its 50-year-old Morgantown power plant in Charles County by 2027, in agreement with legislation that Sen. Christopher R. West (R-Baltimore County) and Del. Benjamin Brooks (D-Baltimore County) plan to introduce next session.

The proposed bill creates timelines for Maryland’s remaining power plants to transition away from coal and establishes a Fossil Fuel Community Transition Fund and a Fossil Fuel Transition Advisory Council to mitigate economic impacts for employees.

“We are glad to see GenOn providing a timeline for this shift in their operations at the plant and will be sure our legislation reflects this commitment from the plant owners,” West said in a statement. “Now comes the time for those of us in the General Assembly to work together, and with Governor Hogan, to make sure we pass this legislation and provide support for any impacted workers and investing in communities that have historically borne the highest burden of coal pollution.”

GenOn announced this summer that it plans to shutter its Dickerson power plant in Montgomery County and retire its Chalk Point power plant in Prince George’s County by June 1, 2021.

“We are supportive of Senator West’s and Delegate Brooks’ bill which will provide certainty on the operational life of the Morgantown and Chalk Point coal-fired generating stations. These retirements reflect the sentiment of the citizens of Maryland, and will facilitate a smooth transition for GenOn’s employees and the communities in which we currently operate,” Dave Freysinger, CEO of GenOn Holdings, said in a statement.

GenOn will continue to run its gas and oil-fired plants at Morgantown, Chalk Point and Dickerson.

Last session, Del. Kumar Barve (D-Montgomery), chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, and West introduced a similar measure that would have phased out the state’s six remaining coal-fired plants, none of which had concrete plans to stop burning coal at the time. The bill did not pass.

With the recent announcements from GenOn Holdings, five of Maryland’s six active coal power plants have either shuttered or announced plans to retire.

The Warrior Run power plant, owned by AES Corporation in Allegany County, is the only plant left in the state without public plans to cease operating. The bill would require it to cease by Oct. 1, 2030. Brandon Shores and HA Wagner power plants, operated by Talen Energy in Anne Arundel County, are slated to retire by Oct. 1, 2025.

The proposed bill is in line with Maryland Commission on Climate Change’s recent report, which called on state lawmakers to transition the state entirely off coal by 2030, while also supporting impacted workers and communities.

Environmental advocates praised the latest agreement and urged Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) to support the Coal Community Transition Act.

“In the coming years, we will keep working to hold GenOn accountable for its pollution from the Morgantown facility while pushing for more local investment in clean energy solutions. GenOn’s support for coal transition legislation in 2021 creates important momentum leading into an unprecedented Maryland legislative session,” David Smedick, the senior campaign representative of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said in a statement.

Advocates and state lawmakers also highlighted the environmental justice implications of the agreement.

“The Morgantown plant closing is good news, but too many communities in Maryland are still suffering unnecessarily from pollution during these uncertain economic times,” Ramon Palencia-Calvo, the director of Chispa, a Latino organizing program for climate change, said in a statement.

Brooks echoed the sentiment.

“Policymakers in the General Assembly have a responsibility to ratepayers and workers to ensure decisions that impact our energy reliability, economy, and environment are not just in corporate boardrooms. Moving beyond coal is also urgent as COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on our black and brown communities highlights racial health inequities that ring true in our energy systems as well,” Brooks said in a statement.

“Race – even more than class – is the number one indicator for the placement of toxic facilities in this country.”

By Elizabeth Shwe