- A federal judge on Wednesday approved a settlement between Vistra Energy and several NGOs that will see the closure of the 585 MW E.D. Edwards coal plant by the end of 2022 and provide $8.6 million to communities around Peoria, Illinois, for workforce, environmental and public health projects.
- The settlement "lays out a community-[led] process for transition of the community, and not just an abrupt closure as many settlements have been historically, and other plants currently are going through," Sierra Club Deputy Press Secretary Renner Barsella told Utility Dive via email.
- The ruling on the settlement starts a 90-day approval period for plaintiffs to develop a plan on how they'll spend the $8.6 million.
As more and more coal plants shut down across the country, affected communities are wrestling with the job losses and other impacts.
Groups involved in the E.D. Edwards settlement say it includes key elements of a plan to help coal communities deal with the clean energy transition.
"This settlement shows how an inclusive transition planning process — one that includes substantial funding for job training and projects that benefit public health and the environment — can help communities where coal plants are located recover from past harms and pave the way towards a vibrant, livable, post-coal future," J.C. Kibbey, the Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) Illinois clean energy advocate, told Utility Dive via email.
Of the $8.6 million designated for communities surrounding the E.D. Edwards plant, $1.7 million — "a good chunk" — will go to transition assistance for plant employees, with the remainder, $6.9 million, "available for energy efficiency, renewables, clean transportation projects, and lung health focused education/medical intervention programs," Respiratory Health Association Director of Environmental Health Programs Brian Urbaszewski told Utility Dive via email.
"Due mainly to market forces, 40% of [Ilinois'] coal plants have retired in the last decade and this is likely to continue," he noted.
For its part, Vistra is closing four other Illinois coal plants by the end of 2019 for reasons unrelated to the lawsuit involving E.D. Edwards, Urbaszewski said.
"We are thinking about that part as a model for real needs that are going to be there as a renewable transition accelerates," he said.
Vistra Energy spokesperson Meranda Cohn called the Edwards situation "unique" adding that "the company is not involved in similar settlements regarding any other plant."
“This lawsuit, which has been ongoing for the past six years, is indicative of the difficult environmental, legal, and political challenges our coal plants face in Illinois,” Curt Morgan, president and chief executive officer of Vistra Energy, told Utility Dive via email.
"While closure announcements are always difficult, the future of the Edwards plant has been in question for years and this settlement provides some level of certainty for these employees over the coming years. We felt the best option for our employees and the company was to agree to this settlement to resolve the case rather than risk an uncertain outcome at trial," Morgan said.
"Our company worked to ensure a significant portion of the settlement to be earmarked to help the impacted workforce through job training and other development programming," Cohn noted.
Vistra has 53 power plants and about 39,000 MW of total generating capacity, with 10 of those plants and 11,000 MW coal-fired. It has not announced any retirements beyond E.D. Edwards and the four other Illinois plants. But the company recently announced its 2030 and 2050 emission reduction targets and "to meet these targets, the company anticipates retiring more coal assets," Cohn told Utility Dive via email.
The settlement, approved by Senior U.S. District Judge for the Central District of Illinois Joe Billy McDade, resolves a lawsuit filed by environmental groups in 2013 alleging Clean Air Act violations that started when the plant was owned by Ameren. Parties to the settlement include the NRDC, the Sierra Club and the Respiratory Health Association.
Next week, the groups plan to announce a process for submitting RFPs related to the upcoming workforce and other projects.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story had an incorrect number for the capacity of the E.D. Edwards plant being shut down. It is 585 MW. In addition, an earlier version of this story said that four other Vistra Energy coal plants shutting down in Ilinois lacked an employee transition program. There are several initiatives to help impacted employees and communities.