Illinois has plenty of power, says new report. So, why bail out Dynegy’s coal plants?

Since last year, Dynegy has tried to strong-arm Illinois legislators and regulators into allowing it to pollute more. To add insult to injury, the Texas-based energy giant wants to charge customers more to do so. It’s a lose-lose for Illinoisans. And here’s the kicker: A new report just revealed that Illinois has more than enough power without Dynegy’s coal plants.

Dynegy has spent the past year targeting environmental protections at the Illinois Pollution Control Board, and has re-introduced legislation in Springfield that would give its uneconomic coal plants a $400 million per-year bailout. Meanwhile, Dynegy is raking in millions in profits. Moreover, Dynegy was acquired last week by Vistra Energy in a move that will generate $4 billion in equity.

There is more than enough power in Illinois (termed “resource adequacy” in energy parlance) to keep the lights on and then some, confirms the new report from the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC). The report is further evidence that Illinoisans should not have to bail out Dynegy’s polluting plants.

Well-supplied grid

The ICC report consolidated analyses and comments from numerous stakeholders, including Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), almost all of whom agreed that available power resources exceed the needs of the region. (Those who didn’t agree include Dynegy and its connections.)

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Other sources back up this notion: Two separate, independent studies shows the region has 16-22 percent more available power resources than is needed. There are more than enough new resources currently in the pipeline (with more to come) to cover the potential retirement of Dynegy’s coal plants, and energy from other regions could be imported if necessary.

Simultaneously, there will be more energy efficiency and rooftop and community solar, spring-boarded by the Future Energy Jobs Act. In other words, demand for energy is expected to decrease as supply steadily increases in the coming years.

In sum, there is plenty of power to meet Illinois’ electricity current and future needs.

Reliability is more than available power

One particular point of contention: “Resource adequacy” – having enough power available – is not the same as reliability, even though Dynegy often attempts to conflate the two in its comments in the ICC report. But more than power availability is needed to keep the lights on.

Reliability is the day-to-day, hour-by-hour, and second-by-second coordination between power plant owners and grid operators to serve the physical needs of sending and balancing electricity over large geographic areas.

Dynegy mixing the two in the report is an issue because the company’s legislative proposal seeks to lump reliability in with payments for “resource adequacy” – i.e. the company wants to be rewarded just for having its power plants available. This would be a huge step backward in a state that prides itself on grid modernization and innovation.

But wait, there’s more

In addition to Dynegy’s legislative push, the Illinois Pollution Control Board continues to consider the company’s request to weaken pollution standards.

Buoyed by an ex-lobbyist who is now director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Dynegy is pushing hard for a change that would allow their coal plants to emit nearly double the sulfur dioxide and nearly 80 percent more nitrogen oxide than the company’s Illinois fleet emitted in 2016. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide are both dangerous pollutants with severe health consequences.

Multiple groups, including EDF, asked to stall the hearing until the company’s merger with Vistra is complete, but were denied. Upcoming hearings in Edwardsville and Springfield provide opportunities for public comment, and members of the public can submit written comments at any time.

Whether at the legislature or Pollution Control Board, Dynegy is determined to bail out its aging coal fleet. But the electric grid doesn’t need these polluting power plants, and Illinoisans shouldn’t have to pay for the plants with their health or their dollars.

Photo source: istock/RomanBabakin

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