About 195 to lose jobs as 3 local power plants close

New emission regulations prompt shuttering of Canton, Havana, Hennepin sites

Chris Kaergard
Dynegy's Coffeen Power Station. [File/The State Journal-Register]

CANTON — About 195 jobs will be lost in central Illinois after Vistra Energy announced the closure of three central Illinois coal power plants.

Slated for closure are the Duck Creek plant in Canton, which employs about 60; the Havana plant, which employs about 75; and the Hennepin plant, which employs about 60, according to a news release from Vistra.

The closures are to meet new pollution standards set by the Illinois Pollution Control Board.

"Without this rule change, the company's entire downstate fleet was at risk of near imminent retirement," the company said in a news release.

Pending regulatory approval, including a determination the plants aren't needed for electrical grid reliability, the plants are likely to close by year's end.

“I am incredibly saddened by the announcement that Duck Creek will close. The hardships that the workers at this plant will endure cannot be understated. They are not statistics or lines on a balance sheet. They are human beings, and I stand committed to working with the governor’s administration in Springfield to bring much needed economic support to both their families and the rest of the Fulton County community," state Sen. Dave Koehler said in a statement. He represents the Canton area.

“The fact is the current business market for coal-based energy is simply no longer sustainable," the Peoria Democrat added. "As we transition to an energy economy that focuses on limiting emissions, we must be proactive in helping those communities that this will adversely effect.”

Rep. Mike Unes, who also represents the area, called the closures "sad and infuriating" in a Facebook post and pointed to the passage of the Future Energy Jobs Act under Gov. Bruce Rauner as a root cause that led to Wednesday's closure announcement.

"It’s unfortunate that our former Governor and legislative leaders pushed a bill that causes the taxpayers of Illinois to subsidize other energy plants in Illinois while self-sufficient plants, like Duck Creek, are shuttered," the East Peoria Republican said. "This is the outcome that I feared when this passed in 2016. The bill has now cost us head-of-household, IBEW union jobs at Duck Creek and also at nearby Havana Power Station.

"Additionally, I’ve had many conversations with hard-core environmentalists who will not be happy until every coal plant is closed," he added. "Because of their unrealistic and uncompromising agenda, our neighbors are unemployed and good jobs are lost in an area that needs them desperately."

Vistra also announced it would close a fourth plant in Coffeen, south of Springfield, that employs about 95 workers.

All told, just shy of 300 jobs are expected to be lost.

The closures came as little surprise given the company's stated intentions, Heart of Illinois Sierra Club group chair Bob Jorgensen said.

"Today’s announcement that Vistra will be retiring these four Illinois coal plants must be a wake up call for our state that the need to plan for transition is urgent. Over a year ago Vistra Energy CEO Curtis Morgan said on national television that coal was ‘on its way out.’ These plants were losing money when Dynegy bought them from Ameren in 2013, and Vistra’s ownership hasn’t changed the reality," he said in a prepared statement. "The truth is Vistra, and Dynegy before them, made huge profit margins instead of investing in long term planning. We must act now to ensure that the communities most impacted by the inevitable shift in our energy sector are supported with workers transitioning into good family sustaining jobs and the cleanup of toxic sites. Bold commitment to clean energy will grow much needed investment in communities left behind by or left out entirely from Illinois’ energy economy.”

Sierra Club Illinois director Jack Darin agreed.

“Vistra’s announcement today is exactly what the company and Dynegy have stated it has wanted to do over the last couple years in pursuing revisions to Illinois’ Multi-Pollutant Standard: secure greater ‘flexibility’ in meeting less stringent, state pollution limits, so that the company can retire less polluting plants and continue running dirty plants," he said in a statement.

The company said in its statement that it continues to hope Illinois lawmakers will adopt legislation during their fall session that would aid Vistra in turning the coal plant sites into solar and battery energy storage facilities. Doing so, it said, would mean "mitigating employment and property tax impacts to plant communities and helping Illinois meet its clean energy goals."

Darin suggested such action by Illinois lawmakers was urgent, and that the shuttered power plants should be prioritized for transformation into clean-energy production. He called for approval of the Clean Energy Jobs Act, Senate Bill 2132 and House Bill 3624.