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The Edwards power plant is now closed permanently. Here's what happens next

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With the end of 2022, the E.D. Edwards coal-burning power plant in Bartonville is officially closed.

That closure came about as the result of a 2019 federal consent decree settling a Clean Air Act lawsuit that environmental groups first filed against the facility in 2013. Plant owner Vistra Energy plans to convert the power plant site for 37 megawatts of battery energy storage. That's enough to power more than 18,000 homes.

"The renewed plant site will generate more property taxes than recent plant operations and provide up to 88 direct, indirect, and induced full-time jobs in the local community," said company spokesperson Jenny Lyon.

"I think it's great to see the site repurposed. "I was less enthused about the fact that it's not Vistra that's doing it. It's ratepayers in the state of Illinois," said Tracy Fox, a leader in the Central Illinois Health Community Alliance that worked to clean up pollution from the Edwards site. "That money is coming off of everyone's electric bill to fund that. It was not a competitive procurement process. But that's part of the kind of deal-making that's needed to get energy legislation through in Springfield."

Vistra spokesperson Meranda Cohn said Vistra will invest $47 million for the facility, which then becomes eligible for payments through grants created by the Energy Transition Act.

An $8.6 million payout from the Edwards settlement included $1.7 million for job training for the displaced power plant employees and others, and $6.8 million for projects benefiting communities around the plant.

That included $650,000 for METEC, a Peoria-based not-for-profit. The grant money is being used to fund home energy efficiency upgrades primarily on Peoria's South Side and in Pekin.

Julie Hudelson Schmidgall is the executive director of METEC. She says many of the homes receiving upgrades through the grants have windows or furnaces that haven't been replaced in decades.

"A lot of our homes down here by the river tend to have much older furnaces that are completely not energy efficient, and they just blare a lot of air," she said. "And so by being able to upgrade these units, we can help individuals heat their homes more evenly across the board, not with so many hotspots, or cold spots. And then just trying to help them meet the needs of keeping their home safe, secure, heated and manageable."

Grants also allowed CityLink and the Hollis and Pekin school districts to purchase electric buses. Additional grants funded solar panel installation and lung health programs.

"The closure of the Edwards coal plant marks the end of a major struggle for clean air and affordable energy for the people in Peoria," said JC Kibbey, the NRDC's Illinois clean energy advocate. "Now, the just transition programs and affordable renewable energy enabled by the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) are playing a key role in writing the next chapter."

Communities affected by the closure are also eligible to apply for an Energy Transition Community Grant.

Vistra must decommission the site before building out the battery energy storage system. Illinois Environmental Protection Agency spokesperson Kim Biggs said the agency is still reviewing permit applications for the facility.

"A tentative decision to issue a permit has not been made at this time," Biggs said.

Environmental advocates have expressed concern about the proposed plan to cap off the power plant's coal ash pond, saying it doesn't do enough to safeguard the water supply. But Vistra says the plan is safe, and that it makes more sense than transporting the toxic coal ash to an offsite landfill in Hopedale.

Biggs said although the facility is closed, permits must be issued before remediation or closure activities can commence. If a draft is determined preliminarily to be appropriate, they will be published on the IEPA's website for public review.

Vistra Energy plans to convert its nine Illinois coal plants to 350 megawatts of utility-scale solar and 150 megawatts battery storage. That also includes the former Duck Creek plant in Canton, and the retired Hennepin and Havana plants.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.