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Alexandria City Council unanimously endorses energy plan for former power plant in Old Town North

(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) Alexandria is one step closer to the demolition of the NRG Potomac River Generating Station site in Old Town North.

On Saturday, City Council unanimously endorsed the plant owner’s Coordinated Sustainability Strategy, which outlines a plan to electrify the future mixed-use development slated to be built there.

Next month, City Council will conduct a public hearing on Hilco Redevelopment Partners’ (HRP) infrastructure development site plan, which details its proposal to build a mixed-use district. HRP plans on analyzing special use permits for the property between now and 2026.

Mayor Justin Wilson said that the project will be instructive for future projects.

“When’s the thing going to get knocked down?” Wilson joked to Hilco. “Today? Tomorrow?”

“If you could advance all of the approvals necessary, we’ll get started even faster,” replied Hilco’s attorney Mary Catherine Gibbs.

Potomac River Generating System development phasing (via City of Alexandria)

The plan to convert the property from district energy and combined heat and power systems to electric district energy and microgrid systems will mean all-electric building systems.

“Electrification of primary building systems ensures that there is a future pathway to carbon neutral operations while simultaneously delivering a high level of building performance and comfort,” HRP said.

HRP reported it will have to overcome a pandemic-induced severe supply chain backlog for critical equipment such as transformers, however.

HRP anticipates demolition could start next year. The former power plant first opened in 1949, shut down in 2012, and was acquired by HRP in 2020.

The site needs extensive remediation after leaky storage tanks bled pollutants into the soil.

The coal-fired power plant also severely polluted the air, according to HRP:

The facility emitted 3.15 million metric tons of CO2e annually, among other contaminants, or nearly 200 million metric tons of CO2e over the course of its operation. Concerned citizens hired scientists to study the power plant’s pollution, which triggered local and state investigations into the site. Air quality studies found that the plant violated national ambient air quality standards for sulfur dioxide, particulates, and nitrogen oxide.

The eventual redevelopment will occur in three phases, each consisting of two blocks, beginning with blocks “A” and “B” at the southernmost portion of the property. HRP proposes 80% of the buildings in blocks A, B and C to be residential development with 20% dedicated to commercial spaces

The project includes 14.2 acres of new or improved open space and people can share their vision for the open spaces in a survey that is active until May 31.

At its core, the project is the removal and remediation of a power plant,” Dustin Smith, the city’s green building manager, told Council. “Following a decade’s long community process to achieve this, the redevelopment will bring with it stormwater and transportation infrastructure improvements and additional areas of open space to the Old Town North neighborhood.”

In its sustainability strategy documents, HRP said that the development will be transformed into a “vibrant, urban, mixed-use community that will include office, residential, arts, hotel, entertainment, retail, and restaurant use.”

“The property will be reconnected to the surrounding Old Town North neighborhood through the extension of the existing street network and the seamless integration of new publicly accessible parks with existing and future public open space,” the developer wrote.

“The site will be accessible through public transportation, the pedestrian and bicycle network, and will engage the adjoining uses and buildings, offering Alexandria the ability to showcase forward thinking urban and sustainable planning and development,” it continued.

Images via City of Alexandria

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