Power Plant Pollution Poisoning the Chesapeake Bay

Power plant behind water spewing smoke. Photo credit: Martin Haas / Shutterstock

Coal-burning power plants are poisoning the Chesapeake Bay with millions of harmful pollutants every year, including excessive nutrients that contribute to “dead zones” where crabs, oysters, fish and other aquatic life cannot survive.

Twenty power plants dump at least 2.2 million pounds of nitrogen and 60,000 pounds of phosphorus into the Bay every year. Of all permitted, point source nutrient polluters in the Bay’s watershed, 30% of all nitrogen and 5% of all phosphorus discharges comes from these 20 power plants.

These power plants are also responsible for a large portion of direct discharges of heavy metals into the Chesapeake Bay. In fact, power plants are the only point source polluters of arsenic into the Bay, dumping an estimated 5,180 pounds each year. Power plants also dump more cadmium into the Bay (1,820 pounds/year) than any other permitted discharges.

Of the twenty power plants discharging to the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the magnitude of all heavy metal discharges is equivalent to:

  • Over 100 typical Publically Owned Treatment Works (sewage treatment plant) discharges of arsenic and lead;
  • Over 450 typical POTW discharges of cadmium;
  • Over 550 typical POTW discharges of nickel and selenium; and
  • Over 1,600 typical POTW discharges of thallium.

There are 7 coal-fired power plants in Maryland:

  1. Brandon Shores
  2. Wagner
  3. Dickerson
  4. Chalk Point
  5. Warrior Run
  6. Morgantown
  7. Charles P. Crane

None of the coal-fired power plants in Maryland are required to limit the amount of heavy metals they discharge into streams and rivers. Five of the plants are required to monitor for some of the toxic heavy metals, but not all of them. This has serious long-term effects on local waterways. For example, one power plant, Warrior Run in Alleghany, discharges into the Lower North Branch of the Potomac River, which is know to be impaired for heavy metals, leading to fish kills, dead zones and swimming advisories.

About these Power Plants

The Brandon Shores Generating Station is an electric generating station located on Fort Smallwood Drive north of Orchard Beach in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, near Glen Burnie. The station shares a 483-acre site adjacent to the Patapsco River with the Herbert A. Wagner Generating Station. The Brandon Shores plant dominates the site with its 700-foot exhaust and 400-foot flue-gas desulfurization system stacks. The Brandon Shores and Wagner Generating Stations consume approximately 4.8 million tons of coal annually.

The Wagner Generating Station's oil-fired Unit 1 began operations in 1957. In 1987 Units 2, 3, and 4 were converted to use natural gas. The system uses treated municipal wastewater from the Anne Arundel County Cox Creek wastewater treatment plant as the source of water. All four Wagner units are cooled using water from intake structures from a basin on the Patapsco River using two circulating water pumps per unit. Water from the first three units is returned to the river by a discharge canal upstream of the intake basin while water from unit 4 uses a discharge canal downstream of the intake basin.

The Dickerson Generating Station is an electric generating plant that’s located approximately two miles west of Dickerson, Maryland. The facility consists of three coal-fired steam generating plants, two gas and oil-fired simple cycle combustion turbines. Condenser cooling for these units is accomplished with once-through cooling water from the Potomac River at a rate of up to 400 million gallons per day. The generation plant's site property uses the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, which follows along the Potomac River.

The Chalk Point Generating Station is a 2,647-MWe electricity-generating plant located near the tiny incorporated town of Eagle Harbor on the Patuxent River. It began service in 1964. Two units are coal-fired, and two others are oil and natural gas fired. The site also contains six combustion turbines. Chalk Point plant is by far the leading polluter in Prince George's County, Maryland according to pollution research site Scorecard.org. It produced 5,271,800 pounds (2,391 metric tons) of air pollution (not counting CO2) and 3,702 pounds (1.7 metric tons) of water pollution in 2002.

The Warrior Run Generating Station is a 205 megawatt cogeneration plant located south of Cumberland, Maryland. Warrior Run can burn approximately 400,000 tons of coal from Maryland each year. 100% of the coal burned at Warrior Run was mined in Maryland. Water for the plant is supplied by the City of Cumberland water system. Fly and bottom ash from Warrior Run, which is highly alkaline due the limestone boiler. The ash is used as fill at four nearby surface coal mines. The plant produces about 370,000 tons of ash each year.

The Morgantown Generating Station is a 1,477 MW electric generating plant located in the unincorporated town of Newburg, Maryland, on the Potomac River. The facility consists of two base loaded coal-fired steam generating units, four oil-fired peaking combustion units, and two black start peaking turbines.

The Charles P. Crane Generating Station is a coal-fired electric generating station located on the Carroll Island Road in Bowleys Quarters, Maryland, 14 miles east of Baltimore. The station has two coal-fired generating units, and the station uses approximately 950,000 tons of coal each year. It also has an oil-fired combustion turbine. The Crane station occupies 157 acres on the Middle River Neck Peninsula adjacent to the Seneca Creek tributary of the Gunpowder River, and is on the rural side of the Baltimore County Urban Rural Demarcation Line.

Since many power plants are not even required to monitor for nutrients, arsenic or other pollutants of concern, it is likely that the annual loadings of these pollutants into the Chesapeake Bay is greater than what power plants are reporting in their wastewater discharge permits.