Dulce Ortiz burst into tears during a virtual press conference as she remembered the family dinners and birthday parties she’d missed for her commitment to the seemingly endless campaign to shut down the Waukegan, Illinois coal-fired power plant.
The Surprise announcement on June 17th the fact that the plant closes in 2022 was bittersweet for Ortiz and other members of the Clean Power Lake County group. It came the day after a major state energy bill was again not passed, leaving in doubt the just transition provisions that Waukegan residents desperately need to help their city weather the shutdown economically and environmental injustice mitigate, they say the plant has caused it.
The bill was widely expected to pass last week as lawmakers had a special session to consider it. However, the Senate reportedly decided not to vote on the bill because of contradiction related to the impact on a $ 1.3 billion natural gas power plant under construction in Grundy County.
The latest version of the bill was spearheaded by Governor JB Pritzker and worked out over many months by a variety of stakeholders. It calls for coal-fired power plants nearby by 2035 and gas-fired power plants by 2045 to reduce emissions along the way. In addition, funding for renewable energies will be increased to a level that is expected to reach 100% clean energy by 2050 and 40% by 2030.
JC Kibbey, Senior Policy Advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, described the last-minute shutdown as yet another “11th. Hour ‘roadblock put in place by fossil fuel stakeholders. The bill was previously expected to pass during the final stage of the regular session of the state legislature in May, but the final section stalled due to opposition from supporters of the Prairie State Energy Campus, Illinois’ largest coal-fired power plant devices. The revised bill allows the Prairie State to stay open if it can capture and store 90% of its carbon emissions by 2034.
“This was the first time anyone had heard of it,” said Kibbey of the opposition over the gas works. “When bills came out for months or years, [fossil fuel closure plans] shouldn’t surprise anyone. Whoever raised these concerns either did not understand the structure of the bill or was trying to cause disruption. ”
After gaswork-related opposition surfaced, lawmakers made it clear that the falling emissions caps would be pooled, and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency could decide that some gasworks continue to emit more CO2 while others, especially in environmental justice communities, are forced to accelerate the reduction sooner. Kibbey and others said they are confident that given these measures, lawmakers will meet again and pass the law in the coming weeks. Kibbey said the Clean Jobs Coalition, of which his organization is a member, supported the governor’s bill. However, he said he had questions about economics and didn’t want to see too many concessions in emissions reduction plans.
“We should have zero emissions by 2045, but not all paths to zero emissions are created equal,” he said.
Complaints and concessions
For much of the spring legislature, the greatest opposition to the Pritzker bill came from Exelon, the owner of the state nuclear fleet, and unions representing the nuclear workers. Pritzker’s bill eventually promised nuclear power plants $ 694 million over five years, a smaller amount than Exelon wanted, but enough to keep the power plants operating, according to a high-profile study by consulting firm Synapse.
“That could have been the end,” says Senator Christian Mitchell said in remarks for the committee hearing on June 15, which was finally adjourned without further action.
Mitchell’s testimony described the concessions made to the Prairie State and the gasworks. “We have come a long way. We moved a lot. The other side hasn’t moved much. Everything we were told was necessary for an agreement – including an exemption on carbon capture, which causes heartburn to both the governor and environmentalists – is now in place. And at some point a progressive climate law is no longer a climate law, and going beyond that is the turning point. “
The bill calls for a task force to look for ways to reduce the debt burden the Prairie State has created on hundreds of community utilities and cooperatives in eight states that have pledged to buy power from the coal-fired power plant and for the rising costs of the coal-fired power station.
Sandy Buchanan is the Executive Director of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, which has published many studies and reviews on the Prairie State. Buchanan has long advocated debt reduction measures for public utilities and cooperatives, and fears that a push into carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) will pose a greater burden with little chance of success.
“The idea of studying CCS has been around for decades, millions have been spent on it, and the only beneficiaries have been the people doing the studies,” Buchanan said. “For coal, it has not proven to be a viable solution. The problem with this system is that these communities are tied to expensive electricity for decades and CCS will only make electricity more expensive. “
The only major carbon capture facility that has operated in the US is NRG’s Petra Nova in Texas, and this $ 1 billion project was made regarded as unsuccessful – Only about 7% of CO2 emissions were ultimately intercepted, and falling oil prices have stalled sales of carbon to squeeze more oil from reserves. Kibbey said that based on the cost of Petra Nova and another carbon capture project in Canada, experts estimate that capturing 90% of the carbon in the state of Prairie for the Illinois portion of the project alone will cost between $ 72 million and $ 500 million a year would.
Prairie State critics say that rather than keeping an unnecessary plant open, lawmakers should focus on making a just transition for the workers at the plant and the Lively Grove mine it supplies, as well as the communities that are already heavily dependent on the debts they have incurred for the Prairie State are concerned.
Demand a just transition
Ortiz said that while her community celebrates the closure of the Waukegan plant, she knows the fight for a just transition is far from over.
For years they have been asking the plant owner NRG to inform them about closure plans or projections and to work with them on transitional provisions without reacting to them. Hence, Waukegan residents and others say laws are needed to protect communities where coal-fired power plants are likely to close – due to market forces, regardless of government mandates.
NRG also announced that it will close its Romeoville facility outside of Chicago, where Citizens Against Ruining the Environment has been fighting for years for environmental protection and a just transition. Both power plants are part of the fleet that NRG bought from Midwest Generation, including two coal-fired power plants that closed in Chicago in 2012 after extensive base campaigns and declining profitability.
The proposed legislation contains ambitious components for just transition and justice, based largely on the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which the Waukegan Group and others have long endorsed. These include labor training centers that focus on environmental justice communities; Retraining, training and assistance to staff and communities in closing fossil fuel power plants; and programs and incentives to ensure that solar, electric vehicles and other renewable sectors benefit communities and those harmed by fossil fuels.
Ortiz noted that her 20-year-old son grew up with the air pollution from the coal-fired power plant, and the struggle to shut down the power plant shaped the family’s life during his teenage years. Ortiz also has a 3-year-old and a 7-month-old, and hopes that the shutdown of the coal-fired power plant will bring a healthier and greener future for their generation, especially in environmental justice communities like Waukegan. But before that can happen, local residents want to thoroughly clean up the site, including a coal ash build-up that has been of great concern in the past. They want sustainable jobs to be created for the residents who have endured the brunt of the pollution for so long, and they want the lakefront to be an asset rather than a burden to the community.
“I hope and pray that I will no longer have to sacrifice my children to make sure we have clean air, water and earth,” said Ortiz. “It is time for lawmakers to pass a comprehensive bill that cites justice once and for all.”