Jan. 18, 2018 – The Journal News
Three mayors, two school superintendents, several county board members and other dignitaries were among the 15 speakers who spoke at an Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) hearing/workshop held in the historic Montgomery County Courthouse Tuesday, Jan. 16. A similar gathering had been held in the Chicago area earlier in the year; Representative Avery Bourne asked that another hearing be held locally because recommendations made by the ICC will have repercussions in her district.
She and Senator Andy Manar were present at the hearing, though neither testified. The ICC has been asked to determine if adequate power sources will be available for downstate Illinois if the current deregulated prices cause the closing of Dynegy coal-fired plants like the one at Coffeen and Newton; an underlying question, the one that drew the most testimony, involves the negative impact those closures would have on regional economics.
The ICC is to submit a written report to legislators, so this meeting was a fact-finding event of sorts. The moderator was Torsten Clausen; when the tone changed to discussion of an outline to facilitate writing the report, Jim Zolnienek became the facilitator.
The courtroom was standing room only at 12:50 p.m.; would be speakers stood in a line that stretched into the hallway. The testimony began at 1 p.m. and ran to 3:10 p.m.; after a 15-minute break, a smaller audience endured the legalistic type discussion that ended by 4:15 p.m..
Many of those who spoke asked the ICC to recommend passage of House Bill 4141 and Senate Bill 2250 in the upcoming legislative sessions; those bills would, according to Dynegy, level the playing field so local producers of electricity could compete with producers from out-of-state where costs are still regulated. Dynegy contends that it costs more now to produce energy than they receive in the current deregulated market. As a consequence, the decision will be to close the nonprofitable plants.
The first local person to speak was former county board member, when she chaired the Economic Development Committee, Heather Hampton+Knodle. She said if this area lost the eight plants at risk, it would be at a tremendous disadvantage when recruiting new manufacturing. She pointed out how many acres of ground it would take to mount solar installations to replace the coal-fired plant energy production, and she reminded the group of how poorly-conceived government regulations sent cattle-packing plants in northern states into Canada, causing hardship for livestock producers in the upper Midwestern states.
County board member Dillon Clark told the audience that a recommendation by the ICC to not support the aforementioned legislation would chase jobs from Illinois.
County board finance chair Meghan Beeler said the power plants are economic drivers in the region; the plant in Coffeen pays $742,192 per year in real estate taxes and another $800,000 in sales tax per year. If the plant closes, necessary services would have to be severely reduced. Both direct and indirect impacts on the local economy would be huge.
Hillsboro School District Superintendent David Powell said the district, as does the entire state, relies too much on real estate tax, and 31 percent of his district’s income comes from the power plant. He asked that the legislative give the plants a level playing field; “We don’t want a handout, just an even chance.” He recommended enthusiastic support for the proposed bills.