EDITORIAL: Talen Energy's Brunner Island deal with Sierra Club good news on many fronts

York Dispatch
  • The Brunner Island Power Plant won't burn coal beginning in 2029.
  • That decision is part of a deal between Talen Energy and the Sierra Club.
  • The deal was announced on Wednesday, Feb. 14. The deal should become enforceable in May.

It’s easy to feel helpless.

Brunner Island Power Plant, Wednesday, February 14, 2018. John A. Pavoncello photo

It’s easy to believe that you can’t make a difference.

It’s easy to sit on the sidelines.

Recently, however, we received a real-life example of how everyday folks can join together to create real-world change.

Best of all, it happened right here in York County.

On Wednesday, Feb. 14, the owner of the Brunner Island Power Plant reached an agreement with a nationwide environmental group to significantly reduce its coal usage by 2023 and completely eliminate it before 2029.

Under the settlement, Brunner Island will burn only natural gas, not coal, during ozone season — May through September — beginning in 2023, and stop burning coal completely beginning in 2029.

Talen Energy and the Sierra Club jointly announced the agreement, which will become enforceable through a court-ordered consent decree expected to be filed in May.

This deal should serve as example to all of us, of all political persuasions, about what can be accomplished through citizen action.

Good news for environment: There’s little doubt that the agreement is good news for those of us who are concerned about our environment.

For decades, the York Haven power plant operated exclusively as a coal-fired plant, but a multi-million-dollar renovation recently upgraded the facility to a co-fire plant, allowing it to burn coal or natural gas.

York Haven's Brunner Island agrees to stop burning coal

The Sierra Club has long targeted Brunner Island as one of Pennsylvania's largest sources of the smog-causing pollutant nitrogen oxide.

The pressure applied by the environmental organization, made up of ordinary Americans, almost certainly pushed Talen Energy to the decision to eventually abandon the burning of coal.

Help from Connecticut: Some neighbors to the north also likely nudged Talen Energy in the right direction.

The announcement comes on the heels of a federal judge's ruling in favor of Connecticut in its lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency for not responding to its petition regarding Brunner Island.

Connecticut had filed a petition in June 2016 asking the EPA to rule that emissions from Brunner Island were significantly affecting its air quality.

Federal court: EPA must act on Brunner Island petition

Talen Energy said in a statement that the company is pleased to reach an agreement that eliminates the distraction of litigation "and enables Brunner Island to focus on the safe, efficient and reliable generation of electricity for our customers."

Would it be better for the environment if Brunner Island stopped burning coal tomorrow? Of course it would.

Change, however, normally comes slowly and in small increments. Such is the case with the agreement between Talen Energy and the Sierra Club.

Nevertheless, change is coming, and that’s a good thing — and not just for the environment.

Good news for Talen Energy, too: Burning coal is a energy source from the 19th and 20th centuries. We are now in the 21st century and we must focus on cleaner, renewable energy sources.

In the long run, the decision to abandon the burning of coal should be good for Talen Energy’s employees and the company’s bottom line.

That’s why last week’s agreement is good news on multiple fronts.

Don't sit on sidelines: That’s something we should keep in mind the next time that feeling of helplessness overcomes us. Because we can make a difference. It will take time and effort, of course, and we’ll likely need to join together with like-minded citizens, but change is possible.

Change won’t happen, however, if you choose to sit on the sidelines.