The sale of the Cheswick Generating Station in Springdale, the last coal-fired plant in Allegheny County, to a company that will clean up and redevelop the environment is a beacon of hope for a regional economy post- coal.
While leaders in the Allegheny Valley and the wider region must remain vigilant, the sale of the coal plant properties to Charah Solutions is expected to benefit the environment and boost the economy.
GenOn Holdings, which owns and operates the plant, announced in July last year that the facility would close in September. Rumors had circulated, but the news still surprised the 60 employees of the factory.
Although the plant had completed its expected life, it could have operated longer, but environmental regulations and market conditions made this impossible. Cheswick is one of half a dozen remaining coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania, and the state Department of Environmental Protection predicts that none will operate past 2025.
Even though the plant is only put into operation during times of high demand, and therefore high prices, it remains one of the biggest air polluters in the county. Only US Steel’s massive Clairton Coke Works pumps more harmful particles into the atmosphere than Cheswick.
One analysis estimated that the public health and environmental costs of these emissions amounted to $100–300 million per year. Compare that to the $9 million in payroll the plant gave back to the community.
Still, the communities of Cheswick and Springdale rightly had mixed feelings about the closure. The factory had anchored the community, visually and economically, for decades. Whatever gains might come from its loss seemed less real than the economic damage – not to mention the possibility of having a dangerous, decaying horror in the middle of the neighborhood.
Then, shortly after the July announcement, a reprieve: GenOn granted a stay of execution until April. It was a sign of hope for workers and the community that the factory might not simply become an industrial ruin by the river.
This is where Charah Solutions comes in. Charah acquires the plant, along with a 50-acre landfill in Indiana Township and a seven-acre wastewater treatment facility in Springdale. It plans to demolish what needs to be demolished, fix what needs to be, and reuse what can be reused. And the plan is not to create townhouses or shopping malls, but new, clean industrial facilities that use all the advantages of the location – the river, the rails, the electricity transmission infrastructure – d a smart and new way.
Ultimately, if all goes according to plan, Cheswick and Springdale will have at least as many solid, blue-collar industrial jobs as before, but without the emissions of a coal-fired power plant.
Perhaps the Allegheny Valley could serve as a model for other environmentally and economically responsible post-coal projects in the region and country.
— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette