Photo: US Air Force

Illinois’ Energy Future: Less Coal, More Renewables

, lead Midwest energy analyst | March 21, 2019, 9:42 am EDT
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Yesterday the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency submitted a proposal to set stricter air pollution limits in the ongoing state rulemaking over Dynegy-Vistra’s fleet of coal-fired power plants in Illinois.

The proposal is a good thing for lowering harmful air pollution. Dynegy-Vistra has also discussed the possibility of retiring some of its remaining coal-fired units in the near future.

Coupled with the recently-introduced Clean Energy Jobs Act (SB2132/HB3624) pending before the Illinois General Assembly, the state’s path toward cleaner, healthier energy is taking shape.

Why Illinois’ multi-pollutant standard is important

Originally enacted in 2007, the state environmental regulation known as the MPS limits how much of the harmful air pollutants sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides Dynegy-Vistra’s coal plants can spew into the air.

In 2017 and 2018, the Illinois EPA, under then-Governor Bruce Rauner, supported a Dynegy-Vistra proposal to significantly change and weaken the MPS. The Illinois Pollution Control Board modified the proposal in October but the proposed changes still contained public health risks, as pointed out in testimony I submitted on behalf of environmental and health advocates in December.

This January, the Illinois EPA under new Governor J.B. Pritzker, requested an opportunity to re-evaluate the Board’s modified proposal which led to yesterday’s filing by Illinois EPA proposing lower pollution caps.

My colleague Jessica Collingsworth and I previously examined the public health concerns under earlier versions of the MPS rulemaking proposals. We also discussed in detail the public health impacts of Illinois coal-fired power plants in last fall’s Soot to Solar report. It’s clear that lower pollution caps on coal plants are a good thing for cleaner air and a healthier environment.

The path ahead: The MPS and the clean energy jobs act

Assuming the Illinois Pollution Control Board adopts Illinois EPA’s revised proposal, the MPS will hopefully continue as a meaningful limit on air pollutants from Dynegy-Vistra’s coal-fired power plants.

And if Dynegy proceeds to retire some of those plants, which will eliminate significant amounts of climate change pollution, the company should also ensure that workers at those plants are treated fairly and that transition plans are developed with affected communities such as the E.D. Edwards Power Station in Bartonville, Illinois.

In the state capitol, the legislature also has before it bills proposed by Dynegy-Vistra designed to charge ratepayers to increase the company’s revenues and keep old, uneconomic coal plants afloat.

A better path is provided by the proposed Clean Energy Jobs Act, which was introduced in February and has provisions to expand renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy storage while also putting the state on a path to further reduce fossil fuels in the power sector.

By keeping the MPS strong with respect to air pollution limits, and enacting policies like the Clean Energy Jobs Act to keep clean energy growing in Illinois, we can keep the state moving toward its cleaner, healthier energy future.

Ask your state legislator to co-sponsor and support the Clean Energy Jobs Act. The Illinois Clean Energy Jobs Coalition (of which UCS is a member) is working to get all 177 legislators to support the bill.

Photo: US Air Force

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