EEI not included in Illinois power plant retirements • Will still face EPA challenges

EEI from above.

— Metropolis Planet file photo

Massac County has dodged what could have been a devastating economic blow. Vistra Engergy, the parent company to Dynegy/Electric Energy Inc. (EEI) in Joppa, announced Aug. 21 four Illinois power plants will be shut down, and, for now, EEI will not be one of them. Earlier this year Vistra had indicated EEI was one of the plants in danger of closing.

“I was extremely happy to hear the news the EEI Joppa facility was not closing down. EEI Joppa management/employees have always been a great partner in our community, and I hope they continue to operate for many years to come,” said Jayson Farmer, Massac County commission chair.

Although EEI is not located within the city limits of Metropolis, Metropolis Mayor Billy McDaniel says EEI has always been a staple within the community, as it was built around the same time as the former Trunkline Gas and Allied-Signal, now Honeywell.

“Any time you lose a company like that, you lose a little bit of your community,” said McDaniel, adding for the employees, it had to be a constant worry not knowing if the plant would shut down. “I was tickled to death for the people who work there,” he said.

Vistra Energy and its subsidiaries announced in a press release, the four power plants are retiring in order to meet the requirements of the recently approved revisions to the MPS rule imposed by the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB).

“While the new, revised version of the Multi-Pollutant Standard (MPS) rule results in the closure of some of the company’s plants in Illinois, it provides long-awaited regulatory clarity and should provide the remaining plants an opportunity to be economically viable over the short term while we seek approval of Coal to Solar legislation and/or other market improvements. Without the MPS rule, the entire Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) fleet was at a high risk of retirement in the very short-term,” said Meranda Cohn, Vistra’s director of media relations and corporate affairs.

“Vistra will do everything it can to maintain ongoing operations at its existing downstate fleet, but its remaining plants face significant challenges. These plants are responsible for the generation of reliable, affordable power to Illinois consumers and produce over $725 million in annual economic activity. These plants face an uncertain future due to the flawed conditions in the MISO market,” said Cohn.

In recent years, other major Massac County plants such as Honeywell, Lafarge and Cook Coal Terminal, have experienced troubled times.

After two lengthy lockouts, Honeywell announced at the end of 2017 a temporary reduction of 170 of its workforce. It was the second reduction, as in January 2017 the company had announced 22 of its full-time employees would be eliminated. Industry analysts indicate the demand for uranium fuel was unlikely to increase between the end of 2017 and 2020, and Honeywell officials will monitor market conditions to determine optimal conditions to support a restart, but for now, the plant remains idled.

In August 2016, Cook Coal Terminal announced the elimination of 22 employees.

Lafarge had a bit of a rocky road since plans were announced back in 2006 regarding the plants intent to modernize and expand with a $420 million investment that was to have added new cement lines by 2009.

Following the 2006 announcement, the economy took a downturn, and in March 2012, Lafarge North America announced the mothballing of the plant’s kiln two. At that time, one-third of the positions were eliminated.

In 2014, Lafarge merged with Holcim, to create Lafarge Holcim. Early in 2015, the future of kiln two was under evaluation. Later, in May 2015, kiln two was expected to re-start in the third quarter of 2015. At that time company officials said the expansion project involving kiln three, was progressing and contracts were being awarded on a project-by-project basis. But, as of January 2016, the company decided to place the Joppa kiln three construction project on hold.

EEI began operating in 1953 and, according to Cohn, the plant currently employs approximately 125 people.

The company will close the Coffeen Power Plant, Duck Creek Power Plant in Canton, Havana Power Plant and Hennepin Power Plant.

Without this rule change, the company’s entire downstate fleet was at risk of near imminent retirement.

These plant retirements are required by the revised MPS rule, which regulates emissions at eight power plants operated by Vistra subsidiaries. The revised rule, which also calls for a reduction in annual mass caps for SO2 and NOx, requires the company permanently shut down 2000 MW of capacity from the eight MPS group of plants by the end of the year, pending approval by grid operators, MISO and PJM Interconnection, and approval of the termination of certain tariffs by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

In addition, the revised rule requires adjustments of these annual caps as additional power plant units are shut down or transferred. As a result, the retirement of the four plants will further reduce annual allowable SO2 and NOx emissions in the MPS group of plants, driving total allowable emissions down by 57 and 61 percent, respectively, from that allowed under the former MPS rule. While not explicitly required by the MPS, CO2 emissions will also be significantly reduced by approximately 40 percent relative to 2018 levels.

The decision to retire these four plants resulted from a plant-by-plant analysis that evaluated several factors in making retirement decisions, including ensuring compliance with the new emissions caps set forth in the revised MPS rule, plant economics, federal energy regulations and MISO market rules. In addition, consideration was given to prioritize retirement of higher emitting plants as suggested by the IEPA and IPCB along with the other factors listed above which resulted in a balanced mix of higher and lower emitting plant retirements.

According to Cohn, future of plant sites and Vistra’s Illinois business plant closures can have detrimental impacts to the communities in which they are located, but Vistra aims to mitigate this impact by growing its Illinois business with newer technologies. “To that end, the company continues to strongly support legislation that would provide a pathway to reinvest and repurpose its existing coal-fueled power plant sites into solar and battery energy storage facilities,” said Cohn.

Vistra has a demonstrated history of developing these new technologies in Texas and California and, through the Coal to Solar and Energy Storage Act of 2019, could do the same in Illinois.

Cohn says this legislation would allow the company to reuse substantial transmission infrastructure and its existing footprint of available land at its coal-fueled power plants to develop renewable energy facilities.

“Vistra is hopeful the Illinois General Assembly will take up the Coal to Solar and Energy Storage Act during its fall Veto Session,” said Cohn.

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