As a result of longstanding and unresolved capacity market design flaws, regulatory uncertainty, and economic pressures, the downstate electricity market is at a tipping point, and drastic changes are imminent.

As much as 75 percent of Vistra Energy’s subsidiaries’ electric generation capacity serving the MISO Zone 4 market is at risk of being shut down by the end of the year. The at-risk power plants produce nearly 5,500 megawatts and account for 40 percent of the available summer capacity in MISO Zone 4.

In addition to supporting the regulatory change pending before the Illinois Pollution Control Board, Vistra and its subsidiaries are supporting a new, comprehensive transition plan for downstate power plants over the next decade.  

THE PLAN

The Illinois Coal to Solar and Energy Storage Act (HB 2713 / Amendment 4 to SB 2080) is a visionary and comprehensive transition plan for downstate electricity generation that benefits consumers, plant employees, and communities, and substantially reinvests in Illinois’ downstate power plants to meet the state’s evolving energy goals and mandates by:

Redeveloping Downstate Coal Plant Sites into Utility-Scale Solar and Energy Storage:

To spur the transition away from coal and toward clean, renewable energy sources, the Illinois Power Agency (IPA) will award 15-year contracts for utilities to procure renewable power that will be built at existing coal plant sites. An estimated $450 million will be quickly reinvested at existing plants in new renewable infrastructure. Between 2021 and 2022, approximately 500 MW of utility-scale solar and energy storage will begin operation at existing coal plant sites across downstate Illinois. Union labor will construct and operate the new facilities.

Meeting Illinois’ Commitments to Emission Reductions and Paris Climate Agreement

There are two historic emission reduction commitments in the proposal. As a condition of being selected to develop utility-scale solar and energy storage sites, Vistra’s subsidiaries will commit that by 2030 total CO2 emissions from their fleet of Illinois power plants will have been reduced by 75 percent compared to 2005 levels. Additionally, for each megawatt of new renewable capacity installed at coal plant sites, five times as many megawatts of coal-fueled generation must be retired by Vistra’s subsidiaries by no later than 2030.

Increasing Grid Stability, Reliability, and Renewable Resources Through Energy Storage

To further enhance the grid’s stability, reliability, and ability to best utilize renewable power, the IPA is given authority to provide 10-year grants to support the development of standalone energy storage facilities of 40 MW to 80 MW capacity at existing coal plant sites – ones that do not have sufficient suitable land to construct utility-scale solar generation of cost-effective scale. These facilities are required to come online by 2024 and will be constructed and operated by union labor.

Responsibly Retiring Existing Downstate Capacity

If the downstate market quickly loses a substantial portion of its baseload generation capacity with nothing online to replace it, families and businesses will potentially endure years of uncertainty and extreme electricity price turbulence. The Coal to Solar and Energy Storage Act keeps otherwise uneconomic power plants open through 2024, rather than closing quickly. This provides time for sufficient new renewables, transmission, or energy efficiency projects to come online. While the entire fleet cannot be retained during the transition period, it is estimated that approximately 60 percent of the at-risk MISO Zone 4 electric capacity could be supported and retained by this program during the next five years. Plants that accept the transition assistance must retire their coal generation no earlier than 2025 and no later than 2030.

Providing an Orderly Transition Process for Energy Workers and Plant Communities:

The at-risk plants provide over 750 direct jobs and have an annual payroll of $68 million, and employees and their families deserve an orderly transition process with as much notice as possible. The transition assistance is intended to save as many plants as economically feasible through 2024. This will provide short-term certainty in the market and advance notice to workers, union officials, families, and communities that will have to deal with the permanent loss of these plant jobs. 

Reinvesting in Downstate Plant Communities and Supporting Local Business Property Tax Base

Existing coal power plants are often the leading source of local property tax revenue. The transitionary plan would allow for to-be-retired plants to continue to be a source of local property taxes, to the extent possible, by incentivizing new investments in utility-scale solar and battery storage. The sites will remain a viable business and continue to pay local property taxes.