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DOE Orders Mirant Plant in Virginia to Operate Under Limited Circumstances

U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman last Tuesday issued an order requiring Mirant Corp.'s 482 MW Potomac River Generating Station in Alexandria, VA to immediately resume limited operation. The order requires the plant to operate in two limited circumstances -- in the event of a necessary planned outage of one of two main transmission lines that feed power into the nation's capital, as well as during an unplanned outage of one or both of the transmission lines.

"After weighing all of the information, I believe an emergency situation exists, and that issuance of this order is in the public interest," Bodman said. "This order will provide the level of electricity reliability necessary to keep Washingtonians safe and our national government running, while minimizing any environmental impact from the power station. We will continue to monitor the electricity infrastructure of the DC area and make changes to the order if and when they are necessary."

The Department of Energy (DOE) noted that the Mirant plant is one of only three sources of electricity that serve the central business district of Washington, DC, as well as many federal institutions, the Georgetown area, other portions of Northwest DC and the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority's Blue Plains Advanced Water Treatment Plant -- the largest wastewater treatment plant in the world.

The other sources of electricity are two high voltage transmission lines that deliver electricity from other generating sources. If the Mirant plant is not operational, an outage of the high voltage transmission lines could cause a blackout in the central District of Columbia area lasting hours or even days.

The DOE order specifically requires the plant to operate in two limited circumstances -- in the event of a necessary planned outage of one of the two main transmission lines and in the event of an unplanned outage of one or both of the transmission lines.

To be ready to respond to an unplanned outage, Mirant is required to maintain operation of its plant at the maximum level of feasible readiness, as determined by DOE after consultation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, without exceeding air quality standards.

Bodman's order, issued pursuant to section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act, is in response to a request for an emergency order to restart the Mirant plant that was filed by the District of Columbia Public Service Commission (DCPSC) on Aug. 24, 2005. That request from the DCPSC came after a series of events that led to Mirant closing its plant.

The order is effective immediately and will expire on Sept. 30, 2006 or at such other time as the Secretary of Energy may direct, the DOE noted.

Mirant resumed operations of one unit at the plant in September after it had shut the plant down in August in compliance with a Virginia Department of Environmental Quality directive to ensure that the plant meets air quality standards.

Meanwhile, Washington, DC-based Potomac Electric Power Co. (Pepco) in September said it was initiating a process with the DCPSC to accelerate construction of transmission facilities in the Washington, DC region. Pepco said the move would ensure reliability in the absence of the Potomac River plant.

PJM Interconnection recently approved an additional $297 million in upgrades to the electric transmission system in the 13-state PJM region. The approved upgrades include $70 million for the addition of two new transmission lines to address concerns about reliability in the District of Columbia .

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