The three smokestacks of Electric Energy Inc. have been part of the Massac County, Ill., sky scape since the mid-1950s. The Joppa-based coal-powered plant became fully operational Aug. 5, 1955. Its current owner, Vistra Energy, has announced plans to close it by 2025 and convert it into an energy storage facility. Vistra and its subsidiary, Electric Energy Inc., then announced Tuesday the power plant will retire by Sept. 1, 2022.

JOPPA, Ill. — The coal-fired power plant here will be closing three years earlier than expected.

Vistra and its subsidiary, Electric Energy Inc., announced Tuesday the power plant will retire by Sept. 1, 2022.

The earlier closing date is part of an agreement Vistra has reached to settle complaints filed by the Sierra Club in 2018 to the Illinois Pollution Control Board. Those complaints cited allegations of pollution emissions exceeding safe amounts that Vistra officials said were made before it owned the plant.

Illinois state Rep. Patrick Windhorst, who represents the 118th District, said Vistra closing the plant three years earlier is appalling and he is disappointed to see a company “bullied out of business” by a “radical” environmentalist group.

In a statement, Windhorst said:

”My heart breaks for the employees of the Joppa coal fired power plant, as news was released this morning that the plant will close three years earlier than first announced. Vistra, the parent company that manages the site, has announced that it has reached an agreement with the Sierra Club, a radical environmental group that sued Vistra for violations it didn’t even make. To see the rug pulled out from under employees that had been told they would have a job for three more years than they will actually get is appalling. It is further disappointing to see another company bullied out of business by the radical Sierra Club, an environmentalist group whose goal is to eliminate the use of all fossil fuels.

”The Sierra Club and Democratic politicians throughout the country are enacting policies and filing lawsuits that are destroying the coal-fired power plants and coal mines that have provided good-paying union labor jobs and affordable home energy prices for decades in Southern Illinois. It is my hope that the people of Illinois, and the people of the United States will wake up to the agenda being pushed by the Sierra Club and Democratic politicians and realize these policies destroy jobs and wreck economies.

”Southern Illinois is blessed with abundant reserves of coal — a naturally occurring element that is used by major economies throughout the world as an affordable, reliable way to provide energy to massive numbers of people. Vistra says it supports turning the real estate at several of its properties into solar farms. Solar farms should be a part of an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy portfolio that includes the use of coal fired power plants, natural gas, and other renewable energy sources.”

Because of the rising financial and legal pressures that come from operating coal plants, the company says it’s renewing its call for lawmakers to pass the Illinois Coal to Solar Energy Storage Act to help Vistra’s $550 million re-purposing of coal plant sites across central and southern Illinois.

“The hardest decisions we make are those that impact the dedicated men and women of our plant workforce and the local communities. In this case, we agreed to shut down the Joppa plant in light of the legal uncertainties and significant economic challenges facing the plant,” said Curt Morgan, Chief Executive Officer of Vistra. “First and foremost, we will work with our team members and the impacted communities to ensure a just transition, including our commitment to pay $1.1 million in incremental property taxes over three years.”

Morgan added, “As part of this just transition, we remain focused on passing the Coal to Solar and Energy Storage Act, which will enable us to reinvest and repurpose sites like Joppa into zero-emission generation, using existing infrastructure, creating jobs, and adding to the property tax base. We have a construction-ready plan to invest $550 million, including approximately $59 million at the Joppa location, to transform coal plant sites into renewable energy centers.”

The company says it’s in the process of working with the plant’s local union leaders and says it will honor the plant’s locally negotiated commitments about severance and outplacement benefits, as well as wages, health care, and other benefits during the remainder of operations.

Vistra says it ‘strives to provide workers and communities with as much advanced notice as possible’ before closing a plant and says it plans to be part of the transition to ‘a new future.’

“Joppa’s 2022 closure is an unfortunate reminder that our remaining MISO fleet continues to face challenges and is at risk of rapid closure for a variety of factors, most notably legal and economic challenges — the latter due to the dysfunctional MISO market in Illinois and significant maintenance costs. Vistra would like to reinvest in and responsibly reuse its Illinois plant sites so local communities like Joppa and Massac County can economically benefit from the transition to renewable electricity generation rather than being left as a non-productive former plant site,” Morgan continued.

Repurpose and Reinvest in Illinois Coal Plant Sites and Communities

Vistra is proposing to invest more than half a billion dollars to develop around 300 MW of utility -scale solar and 175 MW of battery energy storage through the Coal to Solar and Energy Storage Act.

If the act passes, company officials said they intends to build a standalone 45-MW battery energy storage facility at the Joppa plant — which Vistra said does not have the site characteristics to support utility-scale solar.

The company said the new battery system would store enough electricity to power around 22,500 homes.

David Loomis of Strategic Economic Research projects state and local communities will benefit from a significant boost to economic activity if the Coal to Solar and Energy Storage Act is passed.

His analysis projects that from 2022 to 2025, the initiative will support 2,957 full-time jobs across Illinois, create $461 million in statewide earning for workers, and generate $1,7 billion in total economic output in the state.

Vistra said the economic impact study estimated constructing the battery energy storage facility at Joppa would support more than 100 local jobs and spur more than $10 million in economic output in Massac County.

Just Transition for Plant Community and Potential for Economic Growth

Vistra said the Joppa Power Plant is a significant generator of property tax for local governments in the area. Officials said the company will pay property tax payments in extra market value for three years after the plant’s closure, based on a percentage of the plant’s 2019 tax bill, to provide more support for the community. Vistra also said it will continue to pay more than $1.1 million from 2023 until 2025 to local taxing entities.

Building utility-scale solar and energy storage facilities will improve the local tax base and give a reliable source of property tax revenue for decades. Vistra is estimating the new taxable value at renewed plant sites will be 350 to 400% more than the land values of closed plant sites, including nearly double the current property tax for the Joppa plant. The company said it is committed to building and operating these projects with union labor and contracting with diverse-owned businesses and suppliers.

More information about the Illinois Coal to Solar and Energy Storage Act (HB 3446/SB 529) can be found at renewillinois

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