Downstate coal-plant owner to shutter Illinois fleet

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One of Illinois’ two operators of coal-fired power plants plans to shutter its entire downstate fleet within the next six years.

Irving, Texas-based Vistra Energy, which operates the five remaining coal burners in the service territory of Ameren Illinois, unveiled a clean-energy initiative today that sets a timetable for retiring its coal fleet in Illinois and Ohio.

Vistra said it will retire the Baldwin and Joppa plants in southern Illinois no later than 2025, “or sooner should economic or other conditions dictate.” The Kincaid and Newton plants southeast of Springfield will close no later than 2027, again with the same caveat.

The four plants together employ about 400.

“The advance notice of this timeline provides us with ample time to work and communicate with our employees and the communities where our plants are located to ease the transition,” spokeswoman Meranda Cohn said in an email. “Vistra wants to invest and deploy valuable, zero-emission renewable energy technology at its plant sites to reuse existing electric infrastructure and provide plant communities with a stable new source of local property tax revenue.”

Under the plan, which requires action in Springfield, Vistra would convert its coal-plant sites into utility-scale solar facilities accompanied by powerful batteries that could store some of the energy when it’s not needed.

Vistra already has announced the planned closure of the Edwards plant near Peoria, which will occur by the end of 2022.

With today’s announcement, Vistra has made relatively short work of an Illinois coal fleet that encompassed eight plants generating up to 5,255 megawatts when the Texas company acquired Houston-based Dynegy in 2018. Illinois was essentially an afterthought in the transaction, which focused on Texas and markets east of Chicago.

Vistra, like others before it, has complained that market rules—in this case, overseen by regional power-grid manager Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO)—don’t appropriately value the output of its facilities.

“These plants, especially those operating in the irreparably dysfunctional MISO market, remain economically challenged,” Vistra said in today’s release. “Today’s retirement announcements are also prompted by upcoming Environmental Protection Agency filing deadlines, which require either significant capital expenditures for compliance or retirement declarations.”

Vistra’s exit from the business in Illinois leaves just three coal burners in the state operating without a timetable for closure. Owned by Princeton, N.J.-based NRG Energy, they are the Powerton plant in Pekin, near Peoria; the Will County plant in Romeoville; and the Waukegan plant.

Coal once generated about half the electricity consumed in the state. But natural gas, which emits less carbon than coal and is considerably cheaper, has put coal on life support in electricity generation, despite efforts by the Trump administration to prop up the coal industry. Likewise, renewable sources like wind are far more cost-competitive than they used to be.

Illinois isn’t alone. Other Midwestern states, including Indiana, are moving away from coal.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently issued principles for comprehensive energy legislation with the goal of making the state’s power industry carbon-free by 2050.

via Crain’s Chicago Business https://ift.tt/1mywUHL

September 29, 2020 at 11:45AM

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