Edwards coal plant could be shutting down under new agreement

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PEORIA, Ill. — Local environmental groups are one step closer to shutting down the E.D. Edwards coal plant in Peoria County.

The Sierra Club announced Monday a proposed settlement between plant owner Vistra Energy and plaintiffs the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Respiratory Health Association (RHA), could make the plant shutter by the end of 2022.

The Sierra Club, NRDC and RHA said the settlement must still undergo review and approval from a federal judge and includes the retirement of the E.D. Edwards coal-fired power plant by the end of 2022 and $8.6 million in funding for workforce development and public health and environmental projects that benefit Peoria-area communities.

Ryan Hidden, who helped organize the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said Vista Energy affiliate Illinois Power Resources Generating also agreed to the settlement.

“For families in Peoria and Central Illinois this proposed settlement is an important milestone in improving air quality,” Hidden said in a statement. “If approved, this settlement will include millions of dollars for the local community to spur job growth in the clean energy industry, provide educational and job training opportunities, reduce energy bills, and improve public health. Residents in the Peoria area have been working for years to voice concerns and hopes to push for a cleaner and more just energy future. The agreement we reached in this case proudly reflects the power of that work.”

“Illinois communities are healthier without the impacts of coal. The benefits of this settlement for the community is a window into what might be if we look beyond the absence of coal towards an intentional and just transition away from dirty fossil fuels,” he continued.

The announcement of the settlement comes after a 2013 lawsuit filed by the environmental groups, called the Clean Air Act. They claimed the local plant repeatedly violated standards and ran without an operating permit.

About a month ago, Vistra Energy announced plans to close four of its coal power plants around the state, including Canton, Havana, Hennepin and Coffeen.

The Peoria branch of the NAACP is on board with the settlement, with its president Marvin Hightower saying it will benefit communities that live near the plant.

“For the families near the Edwards power plant this news marks an important benchmark in improving the quality of our air,” Hightower said in a statement. “We are glad that the parties in this case have come to agreement on a proposed settlement that not only shuts down a dirty power plant but could provide funding for workforce development, and public health and environmental projects that benefit Peoria-area communities.”

The power company said this settlement will provide its 70 employees with job security for three more years and a transition period.

The settlement was sent to the EPA at the end of August and they have 45 days to review it before it’s sent to a judge.

“I think there’s some satisfaction in that the hard work that many people have put in is coming to fruition. I think the think to point out though is that there’s lots of work left to do,” said Hidden.

Local leaders spoke out about the expected closure on Monday .

“That’s a hard blow to the communities that depend on the tax revenue, first of all. The schools and for government, but mostly for jobs,” said Senator Dave Koehler.

From the state’s perspective, it’s part of a push towards clean energy.

“Don’t get me wrong, wind and solar power are a part of our future, but these solutions are not ready to fill our power needs 24/7/365,” said Representative Mike Unes in a statement.

But, environmental groups say clean energy will be able to supply the area’s power needs.

“The analysis has been done that, even with these five plants retiring, that the grid will be just fine,” said Hidden.

Rep. Unes also added that switching to clean energy will cut jobs and tax revenue.

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