Four coal-fueled sites in Illinois will be shut down to meet pollutant standards
HENNEPIN — Hennepin residents and the rest of Putnam County learned Wednesday that the 66-year-old Hennepin Power plant, operated by Luminant, a subsidiary of Vistra Energy, will be closed, resulting in the loss of approximately 60 jobs.
If all goes according to plan, the 294-megawatt plant could cease operations by the end of the year.
According to the company's website, Vistra Energy and its subsidiaries have announced four coal-fueled electrical-generating plants, including Hennepin, will be retired in order to meet the requirements of the recently approved revisions to the Multi-Pollutant Standard (MPS) rule imposed by the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB).
Without this rule change, according to the release, the company's entire downstate fleet was at risk of near imminent retirement. The company will close the following plants in Illinois: the Hennepin Power Plant, the Coffeen Power Plant, the Duck Creek Power Plant in Canton, and the Havana Power Plant.
Approximately 300 jobs will be eliminated across the four plant sites. Vistra is providing outplacement services and working with state workforce agencies to assist the employees impacted by the closures.
"Even though today's retirement announcements were inevitable due to the changing regulatory environment and unfavorable economic conditions in the MISO (Midcontinent Independent System Operator) market, they are nonetheless difficult to make," Curt Morgan, Vistra's president and chief executive officer, said.
"By far, the hardest decisions we make in our business are those that significantly impact our people. As always, we will do right by those who are impacted by this announcement. Our employees take pride in the work they do, and we appreciate their decades of service providing reliable and affordable power to Illinois, particularly in years like this one with periods of extreme cold and heat," Morgan said.
The four 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 sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, requires the company to permanently shut down 2,000 megawatts 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 sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions in the MPS group of plants, driving total allowable emissions down by 57 percent and 61 percent, respectively, from that allowed under the former MPS rule. While not explicitly required by the MPS, carbon dioxide emissions will also be significantly reduced by approximately 40 percent relative to 2018 levels.
The decision to retire the 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 that resulted in a balanced mix of higher and lower emitting plant retirements.
As part of the closure process, the company is filing the required notices with MISO, PJM, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. If it's determined the units aren't needed for reliability, Vistra expects to cease operations at all four sites by the end of the year. The company will take the necessary steps to responsibly decommission the facilities in accordance with all federal and state regulations.
Mitigating the impact
Plant closures can have detrimental impacts to the communities in which they are located, the release stated, but Vistra stated it aims to mitigate this impact by growing its Illinois business with newer technologies.
To that end, the company stated it continues to strongly support legislation to provide a pathway to reinvest and repurpose its existing coal-fueled power plant sites into solar and battery energy storage facilities.
Vistra has a demonstrated a 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.
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, mitigating employment and property tax impacts to plant communities and helping Illinois meet its clean energy goals.
Vistra stated it is hopeful the Illinois General Assembly will take up the Coal to Solar and Energy Storage Act during its fall veto session.
Senator reacts to closure announcement
State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, in a statement, said the closure will have a large impact on the small community, which is located in the 38th Senate District.
“The retirement of the Hennepin plant was something I had worked for several years to avoid,” Rezin said.
“This plant provides a huge economic benefit to the region, and while the news is sure to be devastating to the hard-working employees and their families, it is my hope that our area employers will have their backs so that they can continue to live, work and raise their families here.”
Plant's positive impact over the years
The Hennepin Power Plant has made donations to the community in the recent past.
In April, Luminant bought four bullet-proof vests for the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office.
At the start of 2018, plant manager Byron Veech presented a $1,000 donation to the Putnam County Food Pantry. Money raised by power plant employees was matched by the company and donated to the pantry.
At the end of 2016, the Hennepin Power Station donated $3,000 for instructional equipment for Illinois Valley Community College’s revitalized agriculture program.
In August 2015, Veech, representing the power plant, presented a $15,000 donation to the Putnam County EMS ambulance service to help fund new LifePak 15 cardiac monitors.
And the Hennepin plant received a top safety award this summer from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which gave the plant its Voluntary Protection Program Star Status certification.