State renews permit for Bridgeport Harbor Station Coal Plant

After receiving a record number of comments from the public, the state has renewed the operating permit for Connecticut’s lone coal-fired power plant in Bridgeport.

Environmental advocates from groups such as the Sierra Club, the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, and the Bridgeport-based Healthy Connecticut Alliance had worked for months to bring more than 150 people to a public hearing on the issue in May to support local businesses in calling for the plant’s closure.

But no one was surprised that the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection renewed the permit. The agency only has the power to determine whether the plant – operated by the New-Jersey based company PSEG — follows all state and federal rules.

DEEP’s permit renewal now goes to the federal Environmental Protection Agency for a final review. Environmental advocates say they plan to be in touch with the EPA about their concerns, including high rates of child asthma and pollution in Bridgeport and Fairfield County.

But the market may end up making the final decision.

“It’s likely that economics is going to make this plant obsolete,” said Charles Rothenberger, an attorney who represents the Connecticut Fund for the Environment. Tightened regulations on emissions from coal plants, along with rock-bottom natural gas prices, have caused PSEG to significantly scale back activity at the plant. During the six months this year for which data was available, the plant operated a total of 333 hours – or less than 14 days.

Bridgeport’s Mayor Bill Finch, in an interview earlier this year, said the city and PSEG are working together with the knowledge that the coal plant will “be transitioned at some point.”

At the same time, he cautioned, PSEG is one of the biggest contributors in property taxes to the city. “Those funds are critical to turning around our school system. The poor children of the city are being educated with those $5 million in taxes.”

The EPA has 45 days to review the permit renewal and ask for any changes.