Chicago area’s last remaining coal-fired power plants to close

It wasn’t that long ago—think as recently as the 1990s—that coal provided about half the juice powering the Chicago area. A rapidly warming climate changed all that.

The writing has been on the wall for coal in northern Illinois for some time. But, even so, the news hit earlier than expected.

Historically low energy prices, coupled with a recent capacity auction that fell well below recent pricing levels, were cited in NRG’s announcement. The plants clearly didn’t bid low enough in that auction, conducted by regional power grid manager PJM Interconnection, to qualify for the payments, which generators receive for promising to deliver during the highest demand periods in a year. If they had qualified, they wouldn’t be allowed to shut down.

“Closing these plants was a difficult, but necessary decision in light of the low market prices,” NRG said.

The company expects to shut down the facilities in June 2022.

The closure in Waukegan will come as good news to environmental activists, who’ve lobbied to shut down that plant for years. Likewise, Will County has been a target, albeit not as visible as Waukegan, for environmentalists.

Losing their jobs will be about 90 union workers, according to Terry McGoldrick, president of Local 15 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. That’s a fraction of the hundreds of people who used to work at area coal plants. But Waukegan and Will County had scaled back in recent years. And NRG in 2016 converted its coal plant in Joliet to natural gas. Gas plants require far fewer workers to operate than coal-fired stations.

Joliet will continue to operate and will be NRG’s only power plant left in the Chicago area. It also owns the coal-fired Powerton plant in Pekin, near Peoria, a far larger facility that generates more electricity than Waukegan and Will County combined. That also will continue to run.

The news comes, too, as the most ambitious state energy bill in 25 years remains in political limbo. That measure is aimed, among other things, at halting coal burning for power generation in Illinois no later than 2035. But, as has occurred in other states, coal-fired plants are closing faster due to market forces than they are because of political pressure.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has made decarbonizing the state’s power-generation industry a signature issue. He expects the last remaining issues to be worked out and passage of the sprawling measure to occur later this summer.

Local 15 also represents workers at ComEd and at the Illinois nuclear plants run by ComEd parent Exelon. The legislation would provide ratepayer-financed subsidies to preserve the nukes, which collectively employ more than 3,500.

“We understand the impact this decision will have on our employees and the local communities,” NRG said of the planned coal-plant closures. “Employees will have the opportunity to apply for open positions within NRG. NRG will also provide transition assistance and severance in accordance with NRG policies and will engage in effects bargaining with IBEW Local 15 for the employees they represent at the impacted sites.”

via Crain’s Chicago Business

June 17, 2021 at 04:31PM

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