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Vistra Coal Plants Set To Become Battery, Solar Sites Following Energy Bill's Passage

Sierra Club

The E.D. Edwards coal plant in Bartonville is slated to become a battery energy storage site after it closes next year.

Vistra Energy plans to convert its Illinois coal plants to clean energy usage following Gov. JB Pritzker's signature of major energy legislation this week.

State Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, said that includes the Edwards plant that already was scheduled to close by the end of 2022 as part of a Clean Air Act lawsuit settlement.

"They have, I think, 37 megawatts of battery storage that they have planned for the Edwards station," said Koehler. "I think that's a great use for that facility. Batteries are going to become part of the future."

The Bartonville coal plant currently generates about 585 megawatts of power.

Koehler said expanding battery energy storage capacity is vital for achieving the 100 percent clean energy generation the governor wants to achieve by 2050.

"What a game-changer it's going to be when battery storage can fill that gap, particularly in the solar industry, of taking over between sundown and sunrise," Koehler said. "And then you see a whole different kind of value to renewable production."

Vistra previously announced its plans to convert its current coal plants in Illinois and Ohio to clean energy uses. The company said Tuesday the legislation signed by Pritzker incorporates its Coal to Solar & Energy Storage Act, which supports clean energy projects across the state, including at the Edwards site.

The energy company also plans a 37-megawatt battery energy storage site at the former Havana Power Station that closed in 2019. A 20-megawatt utility scale solar array and three-megawatt battery energy storage site are planned for the Duck Creek site in Canton. A larger, combined site is planned at the former Hennepin station in Putnam County, with a 60 megawatt solar array and 6 megawatts of battery storage.

The Edwards and Havana sites weren't suited to also host solar arrays, Vistra said in a statement.

Koehler said the bill also provides job retraining for hundreds of displaced coal workers, and a new tax base to replace property revenues lost due to the plant closures.

"That's important, because where these plants are closing, that could mean a real drop in terms of revenues, particularly for school districts," Koehler said.

That's a real concern for former coal plant communities. The Canton school district lost about $800,000 in revenue after Duck Creek closed in 2019. Koehler said Vistra's CEO projects combination solar/battery facilities could actually exceed tax revenues currently generated by coal plants, however.

Vistra claims an economic impact study it conducted shows its construction program will create 2,200 new jobs, and generate more than $180 million in wages and economic impact in downstate Illinois between 2022 and 2025.

Vistra plans to have its new clean energy operations in Illinois online by 2025.

The company hasn't immediately responded to a request for additional comment.

A spokesman for the parent company of Pekin's Powerton coal plant, NRG Energy, said the company supports the state's move from coal to clean energy.

The spokesman said the law creates an opportunity for NRG to explore energy storage, and potentially solar, at several of its power plant facilities throughout Illinois. The spokesman said the company will work with community stakeholders as these projects take shape.

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Corrected: September 20, 2021 at 3:58 PM CDT
The clean energy projects are anticipated to generate $180 million in earnings, not $480 million.
Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.