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Illinois’ Energy Debate Continues Amid Proposals To Close Coal-Fired Plants

An illustration of pollution, 2017
Rici Hoffarth
St. Louis Public Radio
Illinois lawmakers are considering a clean energy proposal that would force almost all coal-fired plants in the state to close by 2035.

Among the most contentious points of the latest clean energy proposal being considered by Illinois lawmakers is a plan to phase out coal-burning plants by 2035.

That would include closing down Prairie State Generating Station, a massive coal plant in the state’s southwest corner.

“The Prairie State Coal Plant is the single largest source of climate pollution in Illinois. It's actually the seventh-largest climate polluter in the whole country,” said Jack Darin, the director of Sierra Club Illinois.

“Scientists are telling us that we're in the last decade we have [to] have a fighting chance to avert the very worst consequences of climate change. We are seeing many of those consequences play out around our country and around our world right now, and those are just urgent reminders that we need to get serious about getting carbon ... out of our electric sector.”

"It's actually the seventh largest climate polluter in the whole country."
Listen as the director of Sierra Club Illinois and the mayor of Breese, Ill. talk about the debate over energy.

Illinois lawmakers have yet to pass a clean energy bill, but negotiations are still ongoing, even after another failed attempt during a special two-day session in June. Legislators are expected to return to Springfield to work on the proposal sometime in August or September.

The town of Breese is located about 40 miles north of the Prairie State Energy Campus. The city is a stakeholder in the plant, meaning the municipality is on the hook for bonds unless the plant is forced to close. Its mayor, Kevin Timmermann, joins the Illinois Municipal Utilities Association in its concern that closing coal-fired plants by 2035 would raise utility rates for consumers.

“If it closes, it's gonna really hurt us on affordable power because we know we would have to go ahead and raise our rates — probably, at a minimum, 15% right off the bat. But overall, we're thinking that will escalate to more,” Timmermann said.

He added that closing the plant would cost some residents their jobs.

“There is a large contingent of workers down at Prairie State that are from the Breese, Illinois, area, and trying to find another job with that base structure down there, [it] would be hard [for them] to find another one,” Timmermann said. “It would have a significant impact on our local economy.”

Timmermann and Darin joined Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air to discuss their views on the effects of closing Illinois’ coal-fired power plants by 2035.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Paola Rodriguez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.
Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.