Midwest Coal Plants to Shut Down Sooner Than Expected: One Step Closer to a Clean Energy Future?

Seth Anderson/CC BY 1.0

Environmental groups and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans today to shut down two coal-fired power plants sooner than expected: Midwest Generation's Fisk plant will close by December, and its Crawford plant by the end of 2014. The plants have been in operation since 1968 and 1958, respectively.

The Chicago Tribune reports on what led to the deal, including some politicking by the (relatively) new mayor:

Under a 2006 deal with state regulators, prompted by a Tribune investigation, Midwest Generation had agreed to clean up or shut down the Chicago coal plants by 2018.

Environmental groups pushed for tighter deadlines and enlisted a majority of Chicago alderman to push an ordinance that would force Midwest Generation to substantially reduce lung- and heart-damaging air pollution emitted by the two plants.

In April, the City Council delayed a vote on the ordinance after Emanuel, who had recently been elected, made it clear he wanted to weigh in on the issue. Now the new mayor gets to take credit for a deal that evaded former Mayor Richard Daley, who often boasted of his efforts to make Chicago the nation's greenest city.

In return for Midwest Generation closing the power plants, Emanuel pledged to pull back the ordinance. Enviornmental groups -- the Environmental Law and Policy Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago and the Sierra Club -- will drop their lawsuit against the power company.

And in PA, NJ, Ohio...
Meanwhile, GenOn Energy has announced plans to close eight power plants (one oil and the rest coal) between June of this year and May 2015, "because it would be too expensive to install pollution controls now required by the federal government," the Washington Post reports. (The EPA issued rules in December requiring utilities to curb mercury and other toxic emissions released into the air.)

GenOn Energy's plan is to close 3,140 megawatts of generation capacity “because forecasted returns on investments necessary to comply with environmental regulations are insufficient,” it said in a statement. Five of the affected plants are in Pennsylvania, two in Ohio and one in New Jersey.

Victory for a Broad Coalition
The announcement comes after a long-fought campaign—and Brian was at the scene of a Greenpeace protest last year.

"After a groundbreaking ten-year grassroots campaign to shut down these archaic plants, Chicagoans have reclaimed their right to clean air," Chicago-based Greenpeace campaigner Kelly Mitchell wrote after the announcement. “We hope other communities across the country will find new inspiration today to stand up for their right to clean air and a safe climate."

The Chicago Clean Power Coalition celebrates the news and the actors that played a role in it:

Today, clean power advocates can celebrate the end of the most recent 2 1/2-year long campaign that successfully brought about an end to pollution from Chicago’s two coal plants. Nearly 60 organizations and groups came together to work side by side with communities affected by coal pollution to make Chicago a coal-free city.

Jeff Biggers, writing on HuffPost, calls the Chicago announcement a victory with larger implications:

The historic victory, after a decade-long battle, marks a shift in the clean energy battle for the country: If Chicago, once hailed as the "world's largest market of coal," can go coal free, the rest of the nation must surely be close behind them.

Thanks to one of the most determined, diverse and successful clean energy campaigns in the nation -- including a breakthrough campaign to pass a Clean Power ordinance -- the retirement of the decrepit and deadly Fisk and Crawford coal-fired plants will end the century-long reign of the most toxic polluters in the heartland.

Is the planned closure of coal plants in four states a sign of cleaner things to come?

Tags: Chicago | Coal | Energy | Ohio | Pennsylvania

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