Conservation Law Foundation Secures Groundbreaking Outcome in GenOn Kendall Plant Case | Conservation Law Foundation

Conservation Law Foundation Secures Groundbreaking Outcome in GenOn Kendall Plant Case

Claire Morgenstern Claire Morgenstern

Innovative Solution to Cooling System Issues Will Improve Charles River Health, Bring Lower Carbon Steam Heat and Power to City Buildings


Karen Wood, CLF, (617) 850-1722 or
Peter Shelley, CLF, (617) 850-1754 or

BOSTON, MA  February 2, 2011 – Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) applauded today’s announcement by EPA Region 1 of a revised water quality permit for the GenOn Kendall Cogeneration Plant in Cambridge, MA (formerly known as Mirant Kendall)  that will vastly reduce the discharge of heated water into the lower Charles River from the plant, allowing the river ecosystem to return to health and providing hope that the Charles will once again be swimmable and fishable.

EPA’s issuance of a revised permit brings to a close a five-year negotiation, in which CLF and the Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA) argued that the plant’s massive water intake from the Charles River and its discharges of heated water back into the river were killing fish, as well as their eggs and larvae, destroying the river ecosystem. The new permit requires the plant to reduce its heat discharge and water withdrawal by approximately 95 percent, and to ensure that any heated discharge does not warm the river enough to cause harm.

The plant will meet the new requirements by upgrading its existing “once-through” cooling system, to a new, closed-loop system. Kendall will capture most of the heat generated by the plant and distribute it as steam through a new pipeline to be built across the Longfellow Bridge by the TriGen Corporation over the next several years. The combination of the new co-generation turbine and expanded pipeline will allow Kendall to drastically reduce the amount of water it extracts from the Charles River, take more heat out of the plant, and double the amount of steam it can sell to TriGen to heat buildings in the city of Boston.

“We are extremely pleased with this outcome,” said Peter Shelley, senior counsel for CLF. “Through a combination of tenacity, creativity and serendipity, we arrived at a solution that will achieve meaningful improvements to water and air quality, a better way of doing business, and benefits to the surrounding communities. It’s that holy grail of problem solving in which everyone wins.”

In a separate agreement negotiated by CLF and CRWA, GenOn will contribute $50,000 per year for five years to CRWA to aid in restoring critical fish populations, primarily shad and river herring, in the lower Charles. Restoring shad and herring to the river will strengthen coastal fish populations, which feed on them during migration.

Shelley continued, “The work to restore the health of the lower Charles River and Boston Harbor is complex and ongoing. It is a testament to the value of these water bodies to the City and people of Boston that these divergent interests could come together around the vision of a fishable and swimmable Charles River.”


In 2006, CLF led an effort, joined by CRWA, to appeal Mirant Kendall’s water quality permit on the grounds that the permit was not protective enough of river and fish health. Mirant Kendall also appealed the permit on the grounds that it was too strict. The case was filed with the Environmental Appeals Board of the EPA in Washington DC. Meanwhile, the Riverkeeper organization, with CLF as a co-plaintiff, won a federal court case that challenged the scientific basis of EPA’s cooling water intake regulations for power plants. As a result, the regulations upon which EPA was basing the Mirant Kendall permit were thrown into question and EPA had to begin again to develop a record for the permit. Then, in 2008, it was announced that the Longfellow Bridge would be rebuilt. This provided CLF, CRWA, EPA and Mirant Kendall an opportunity to explore alternative approaches to configuring the plant. Mirant Kendall decided to re-invest in the plant, and paved the way for today’s outcome.

The Mirant Corporation completed its merger with RRI Energy in December 2010, forming GenOn Energy, Inc., which operates the Kendall Cogeneration Facility. The plant sits on the Cambridge side of the Longfellow Bridge.

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) protects New England’s environment for the benefit of all people. Using the law, science and the market, CLF creates solutions that preserve natural resources, build healthy communities, and sustain a vibrant economy region-wide. Founded in1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization with offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.