A new energy bill could bring cleaner, sustainable production to closed coal plants

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CANTON, Ill. (WMBD) — Local leaders are envisioning a new era of renewable energy in Central Illinois.

Through the Illinois Coal to Solar Energy Storage Act, closed coal plants will be repurposed for cleaner energy. The Duck Creek Plant in Canton is one of several facilities that could be affected if the act passes.

At the end of 2019, Vistra Energy announced the closure of four Illinois coal plants, including Duck Creek.

“When they closed the three plants at the end of the year, that was 153 members that lost their jobs, good-paying jobs,” said Bobby Wedell, a union representative for Local 51 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

The closure left people in Canton hurting after losing a major industry.

“Our rural areas are areas that we just can’t leave behind,” said State Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria).

Now leaders are hoping for a more sustainable future.

“The property tax base is actually greater than what it is for the existing coal plants,” said Vistra CEO Curt Morgan.

On Wednesday, Koehler hosted a summit to talk about the legislation. The plan aims to re-purpose closed coal plants and Vistra wants to turn them into solar producers and battery storage plants.

“The commitment from Vistra is there, that they’re willing to put billions of dollars of investment into Illinois, specifically downstate Illinois,” said Koehler.

Leaders said the transition would bring construction work, solar jobs, and tax money to communities like Canton. They admitted the number of jobs needed in solar is less than coal.

It’s a concern for union workers and representatives.

“We’re really trying to ensure that the jobs going forward will be good-paying jobs and they’ll stay in the community for years,” said Wedell.

Even so, Morgan said the investment in the area will benefit local people.

“Its a win-win I think at the end of the day,” said Morgan.

Koehler said this is the way of the future as climate change forces industries towards safer and cleaner energy options.

“We have to know that this transition is coming, and let’s make the best of it that we can for rural areas,” said Koehler.

Morgan also said the company has developed solar and energy storage plants in California and Texas.

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