Monday, August 18, 2014
CHICAGO – NRG Energy Inc. announced Thursday its plans to close one Illinois coal-fired generating unit in Romeoville and convert a power facility in Joliet to natural gas, a move the company said would reduce carbon dioxide emissions but also eliminate 250 jobs during the next two years.
Environmental groups called it an important step toward greener energy, but one that doesn’t go far enough to reduce the heat-trapping pollutants blamed for global warming.
The New Jersey-based energy company said it will close Will County Unit 3, one of its two coal-fired units in Romeoville, next April. The company plans to convert its Joliet facility to natural gas by mid-2016. The company also said it would install emissions control technology at its plants in Pekin and Waukegan.
The company took over the four Illinois facilities in April when it acquired in a $2.65 billion deal Edison Mission Energy, which had filed for bankruptcy.
The changes represent a $567 million investment for NRG that will reduce overall carbon dioxide emissions by at least 16 million tons annually by 2020, the company said. The reductions would equal more than half of Illinois’ carbon dioxide reduction goal called for by President Barack Obama’s proposed carbon pollution standards, the company said.
NRG plans to offer voluntary severance packages to workers, company spokesman Dave Gaier said. “These aren’t necessarily layoffs,” Gaier said.
Environmental groups gave the announcement a cautious nod, but called on the company to do more to phase out coal and invest in alternative energy.
“This is a step in the transition to much a cleaner energy economy in Illinois,” said Howard Learner, executive director of Environmental Law and Policy Center. Investment in wind and solar power will create jobs, Learner said.
The Sierra Club released a statement calling attention to NRG’s continued coal burning in Waukegan, Pekin and the second unit in Romeoville.
“For a company that describes itself as a trailblazing power producer, we were hoping and expecting a lot more vision, innovation and forward-thinking in NRG’s approach to its Illinois operations,” said Bruce Nilles of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.
Almost 41 percent of Illinois’ power came from coal-fired power plants in 2012, according to federal statistics.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Old Plant. New Owner. Same Problems. What will NRG Energy do to clean up the Waukegan Coal Plant?
If you pick up a copy (or visit the websites) of the Lake County News Sun or Reflejos this month, you might see the following advertisement from ELPC and the Clean Power Lake County Coalition:
ELPC and allies have been working to clean up or shut down the old, dirty Waukegan coal plant for some time. This latest advertising campaign targets the plant’s new owner, NRG Energy, in the hopes that it will increase pressure on the company to declare its plans — hopefully, to clean up the plant — as soon as possible.
Thank you to everyone who already helped this ad go viral on Facebook and Twitter. If you haven’t already, please share with your friends and networks:
Tuesday, June 3, 2014
CHICAGO (WLS) –Illinois officials say the state is well-equipped to meet new power plant emissions goals. The Obama Administration unveiled a plan Monday to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent by the year 2030. It sets the first national limits on carbon dioxide and will further diminish the use of coal in electrical production.
The proposal sets off a complex process in which the 50 states will each determine how to meet customized targets set by the EPA and then submit those plans for approval.
“It is important that we take serious, comprehensive action to reduce carbon emissions,” said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, “so I look forward to reviewing the draft guidelines of the federal plan in detail and helping to develop a flexible and effective approach for Illinois.”
Monday, June 2, 2014
STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER
Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center
CHICAGO – Howard A. Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, issued the following statement regarding the U.S. EPA’s proposed carbon pollution reduction standards issued on Monday:
“These carbon pollution reduction standards will drive technological innovation for a cleaner environment and protecting the public’s health. Solving our climate change problems by cleaning up the energy sector is necessary to fulfill our moral obligation to our children and a better future,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.
Learner continued: “The United State Supreme Court held that the U.S. EPA has both legal authority and responsibility under the Clean Air Act to set standards to reduce carbon pollution to safe levels. Now, it’s time for the engineers and technical specialists to develop cost-effective solutions and unleash innovative new clean energy technologies that can both repower our economy and achieve better environmental protection.”
“The Midwest, alone, is responsible for about five percent of global greenhouse gas pollution and states like Illinois and Iowa are positioned to lead with wind power, solar energy and energy efficiency development solutions that spur economic growth while reducing carbon pollution. We commend the Obama Administration for advancing these carbon pollution reduction standards on a clear path forward,” said Learner.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
President Obama will unveil a rule Monday intended to confront climate change by cutting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, the nation’s greatest source of the heat-trapping gas.
Obama plans to bypass Congress and use his authority under the Clean Air Act to achieve greenhouse gas reductions. Power generation accounts for about 40% of such emissions.
The 3,000-page rule is expected to spark lawsuits, claims of job losses and charges by critics that Obama has launched a new “war on coal.”
In some coal-reliant states, however, power companies and regulators are expected to take a more pragmatic approach, planning for a future they assume will include carbon dioxide limits.
“Carbon policy is going to impact our business, and we have to be prepared for that,” said Robert C. Flexon, chief executive of Houston-based Dynegy. “It can be a threat or an opportunity. I’d rather make it an opportunity.”
Which approach prevails – a legal fight or a political compromise – will help determine how quickly the U.S. will begin to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
As it seeks to reduce pollution, the administration must ensure that electricity supplies remain reliable and consumer rates do not increase significantly.
Some potential approaches are on display in Illinois, which relies heavily on coal, including nine plants operated by Dynegy. Additional power comes from nuclear plants and renewable sources, especially wind.
Although some older coal-fired plants have closed, power executives, regulators and some environmentalists say many need to keep running for now, although at less capacity. The reduced output could be made up through energy efficiency and renewable power, they say.
“We’re pretty consistent with what you’re hearing from other states, that you can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach, but a suite of tools instead to use to cut emissions,” said Lisa Bonnett, director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
Much of the wrangling over the new rule will probably center on its stringency: What baseline will be used to determine how much states have to reduce their emissions?
Will states have different standards to meet depending on how much coal generation they have? Will states get credit for cuts they already have made to emissions?
The Obama administration wants the rule in place by the end of 2016, just before the president leaves office, but given the likelihood of legal challenges, when the cuts might take effect is unclear.
In the past, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has ordered individual power plants to cut specific pollutants by set amounts. But that doesn’t work for carbon dioxide because the technology that would allow coal plants to cut those emissions is not currently cost-effective.
Instead, the EPA is expected to propose a rule that sets overall pollution reduction targets for states and gives them considerable flexibility on how to meet those goals.
In effect, the rule would enact some features of the so-called cap-and-trade plan that passed the House early in Obama’s first term but died in the Senate.
States would have an overall ceiling on the amount of greenhouse gases their power plants could emit – the cap. They could allow utility companies to trade in the hope of finding efficient, low-cost ways to achieve those goals.
Many energy companies have a mix of plants that use different fuels, and some could run cleaner units powered by natural gas or wind and reduce the use of coal-fired generators.
For the gigantic Prairie State plant in the southern Illinois town of Marissa, however, coal is all there is.
The largest U.S. coal plant built in the last three decades, Prairie State was erected in 2012 at the mouth of a coal mine by a consortium of utilities from several states. Its 14-story generation complex can produce 1,600 megawatts of power to serve about 2.5 million customers.
Thanks to $1 billion in technology, it emits less pollution, including mercury and sulfur dioxide, than other coal plants.
Still, Prairie State’s carbon dioxide output is greater than 90% of the country’s power plants, according to EPA data, and it cannot cut emissions enough to rival cleaner electricity generation.
The power it generates is more expensive than electricity from some natural gas plants, a gap that has generated complaints from communities that buy its output.
Plant executives have met with EPA officials on several occasions to argue for more time, said Ashlie Kuehn, Prairie State’s general counsel. The company has considered several options to offset the plant’s emissions.
“Do we install solar panels in our parking lot? Plant trees? Do we partner with a renewables company?” Kuehn asked. “I’m confident EPA heard our concerns. But we’re on pins and needles.”
Chicago-based Exelon owns the state’s six nuclear plants, which do not emit greenhouse gases.
Utility officials have considered closing as many as five of the plants, however, because electricity prices make recouping the cost of the reactors impossible. A rule that would limit coal-generated electricity would help Exelon’s bottom line.
“There’s a lot of talk about how greenhouse gas rules would negatively affect coal plants, and that’s true,” said Joseph Dominguez, senior vice president of regulatory affairs at Exelon. “At the same time, not having greenhouse gas rules negatively affects the expansion of clean energy. The rule could help us. Right now, nuclear isn’t compensated for its zero-emission profile.”
Environmentalists like Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a Chicago-based advocacy group, hope the rule will foster greater energy efficiency and renewable energy use.
In 2007, Illinois passed a law to require power companies to reduce electricity consumption by 2% every year through energy efficiency programs and incentives.
Friday, May 9, 2014
There are more than 90 coal ash ponds in Illinois, and many of them pose a threat to public health, public safety and the environment. Learn more in ELPC’s new article on InIllinoisWater.org.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
A federal bankruptcy court judge on Tuesday approved the sale of Edison Mission Energy, parent of Illinois coal plant owner Midwest Generation, to New Jersey-based NRG Energy Inc. for $2.6 billion.
The deal — which includes wind power, gas-fired power plants, coal plants and oil and waste plants across the U.S. — is expected to close by the end of the first quarter, following approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, NRG said.
The acquisition makes NRG the largest competitive U.S power company with about 53,600 megawatts of generating capacity as well as the third-largest U.S. owner of renewable energy.
Four Illinois coal plants, Powerton (Pekin), Joliet, Waukegan and Will County (Romeoville) transfer to NRG as part of the transaction. Edison Mission filed for Chapter 11 in December 2012.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
CHICAGO (AP) — The Illinois Pollution Control Board agreed Thursday to give a Texas company extra time to install pollution controls at five Illinois coal-fired power plants, saying it would be an economic hardship for the company to do it sooner.
The panel voted 3-1 to grant a pollution-control waiver to Houston-based Dynegy Inc., which still must acquire the plants from Ameren Corp., but said it would be several hours before the opinion was available to the public. Chairwoman Deanna Glosser cast the only dissenting vote, saying she did not believe the company demonstrated an economic hardship.
Environmental groups opposed the waiver, saying the delay would hurt public health and the Dynegy knew the pollution controls were needed when it agreed to acquire the plants.
Monday, September 16, 2013
LUDINGTON, MICH. — The Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency agreed to enter a revised consent agreement with a ferry operator that would stop the nation’s last coal-fired ferryboat from dumping waste ash into Lake Michigan prior to the start of the 2015 sailing season.
A federal judge has to approve Friday’s motion, the Ludington Daily News reported.
Lake Michigan Carferry, operator of the S.S. Badger, wants to install an ash retention system aboard the ship that hauls passengers, vehicles and cargo between its home port of Ludington, Mich., and Manitowoc, Wis., from May to October. Currently, ash from its boilers is mixed with water and piped overboard. More than 500 tons of ash is released during a typical season.
The consent deal also calls for a reduction in the amount of ash discharged this year and over the five-month 2014 sailing season.
“The revised consent decree has been strengthened based on public comments on the proposed consent decree that was lodged in March,” said Susan Hedman, EPA Region 5 administrator. “These revisions increase certainty that the S.S. Badger will stop discharging coal ash to Lake Michigan at the end of the 2014 sailing season.”
The ship is the last remnant of the once-thriving carferry industry in Ludington, northwest of Grand Rapids. It offers a four-hour cruise across 60 miles of open water, an alternative to driving between Michigan and Wisconsin by way of crowded Chicago.
“The consent decree process has been extensive and has taken much longer than we had hoped,” Lake Michigan Carferry chief Bob Manglitz said in a statement. “This action is a huge milestone on the long road we have been traveling to keep the Badger sailing.”
The Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center said Friday that the revisions improve the consent deal, but the environmental group wants to make sure Lake Michigan Carferry gets no extensions beyond the 2014 sailing season.
“These improvements are steps in the right direction, but it’s time to require a complete end to the S.S. Badger’s dumping of toxic coal ash pollution in Lake Michigan,” the group’s executive director, Howard Learner, said in a release. “Enough is enough. Let’s protect our Great Lakes.”
More stories on the revised S.S. Badger consent decree:
Chicago Tribune: Ferry to end toxic Lake Michigan dumping
Manitowac Herald Times: Revised carferry decree filed
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Penalties toughened if S.S. Badger ferry fails ash deadline
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
The Waukegan coal plant is polluting Lake Michigan, harming both people and aquatic life. Learn how ELPC and Sierra Club are working to strengthen the plant’s water pollution permit and how you can engage in the public decisionmaking process. Listen now.