April 13, 2020
Facing likely closures, owner of Southern Illinois coal power plants supports bill to help repurpose sites for solar, energy storage projects
“We know that drastic changes are imminent,” said Meranda Cohn, Vistra’s director of media relations and corporate affairs.
The company says 75 percent of its generating capacity in the region “at risk of being shut down,” according to Cohn. Amid that backdrop, Vistra argues that the Illinois Coal to Solar and Energy Storage Act provides a way to more “responsibly transition” for plant employees, local communities, and the state’s ambitious clean energy goals.
“What we’re trying to do is create a viable business in Illinois and the status quo does not present that,” said Cohn. “We think this gives us an opportunity to continue to operate in the state and at the same time help the state meet its goals.”
Vistra says the concept would beneficially “reuse the substantial transmission infrastructure and available land at existing coal-fueled power plants.” The company said it is still assessing which types of projects would be best suited for specific plant sites.
Vistra employs about 1,000 workers total across its eight Illinois coal plants, Cohn said. The proposal would rely on a combination of funding mechanisms, including renewable energy credits and state-awarded grants. “Transitionary assistance” would be capped at $140 million annually from 2020 through 2024, a five-year period during which given coal plants would remain in operation, with solar or energy storage joining the mix at each site in either 2021 or 2022. The legislation would allow the plants to retire if unforeseen capital expenditures of more than $10 million would be needed to satisfy environmental laws or regulations and keep them in operation.
The company estimates that “up to 2,000 construction jobs and support jobs” would directly be created through the process of repurposing its facilities.”