Illinois coal plants were on their last legs

The Meredosia power plant began generating electricity in 1948. (courtesy Department of Energy)

Are EPA regulations responsible for Ameren’s decision to shutter two coal plants in Illinois?

If you only read the first sentence or two of news accounts, that’s the impression you’ll likely be left with. And while that storyline isn’t entirely untrue, it doesn’t quite give you the full picture.

Jeffrey Tomich of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provides some additional detail:

  • Both plants were built in the 1940s.
  • Ameren had already shut down two of the four generating units at both plants.
  • Ameren had recently tried to sell the plants, but couldn’t find any buyers.
  • One of the plants was already planned to be retrofitted as part of the new FutureGen project.
  • The plants are the least efficient, and most polluting, in Ameren’s fleet.
  • The plants are disproportionately expensive to operate.
  • Not only that, the Environmental Law and Policy Center points out that Ameren issued a press release in 2009 announcing layoffs at both plants, blaming lack of demand because of the weakened economy:

    “While we regret having to take this action, the challenges we face demand a new model for our merchant generation business–we must build a leaner, more streamlined organization that can more effectively compete in today’s difficult economy where we see much lower prices for our power,” says AER President and Chief Executive Officer Chuck Naslund.

    So we’re talking about nearly 70-year-old facilities that are barely profitable, to the point that they’re already halfway shut down. Nevertheless, in its latest news release, Ameren describes the facilities as “venerable plants” that have “served the state of Illinois well over a number of decades.”

    Ameren specifically blames the EPA Cross-State Air Pollution Rule for the closure:

    “Numerous options to bring these units into compliance were explored, including installing additional environmental controls, but the costs were just too high to be justified.”

    And that’s all very likely true. But to say the EPA rule is “primarily” the cause, as Ameren does in its news release, is a bit disingenuous. Given the already shaky economic state of these two power plants, it seems the new regulations are only hastening the inevitable.

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