Pilsen power plant shutting down
Mayor brokers deal to close coal-fired polluter by end of 2012
02/29/2012 11:48 AM
UPDATED 5:48 p.m. Wednesday to verify that the plan to shut down the plant is now official.
Pilsen’s controversial Fisk coal-fired power plant will shut down at the end of 2012 under a deal brokered by Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Wednesday afternoon.
Under the deal, the plant’s owner Midwest Generation will shut down Fisk, at 1111 W. Cermak Road. Its sister plant in Little Village, Crawford, will follow suit by the end of 2014.
The agreement comes in the wake of staunch protests about the pollution from the plants. That criticism hit a fever pitch during last year’s election cycle, with Solis at the center of the storm.
His opponent, Cuahutemoc Morfin, portrayed Solis as being soft on the environment and unsympathetic to the neighborhood’s concerns about the plant. Solis opposed the Clean Power Ordinance pending in the city council that would crack down on the power plants. Solis also had taken campaign cash from Midwest Generation.
Solis fought back en route to being narrowly re-elected. He changed gears to endorse the Clean Power Ordinance despite the fact that he remained convinced the city would be sued if it passed the legislation.
Soon after, the bill gained steam in the new city council and appeared poised to pass — until it was tabled at Emanuel’s request so the mayor could try to negotiate directly with the company.
On Wednesday morning, as the agreement was set to be made official, Solis praised the mayor for finding a way to close down the plant without getting into a long legal battle.
“I think it’s a great victory. I think we’re going to benefit a lot here in terms of help and the environment in our community,” Solis said. “I think [the legislation] still would have incurred a lawsuit, which is why I think the mayor was so important.”
Emanuel, in turn, lauded Midwest Generation for working to come to the agreement.
“Midwest Generation has made an important and appropriate decision today, which will be good for the company, the city, and the residents of Chicago,” Emanuel said in an emailed statement. “I committed during the campaign to work with all parties to address community concerns about the plants, and today’s announcement puts us on a more sustainable path for these neighborhoods.”
Several environmental advocacy groups were involved in the negotiations, as well, and one of the things Midwest Generation gets out of the deal is that a lawsuit against them regarding pollutants will be dropped, Solis said.
Jerry Mead-Lucero, an activist with the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization, said he thinks Midwest Generation was worried about the ordinance passing and becoming a nationwide precedent — something that the activists would have liked.
However, they eventually signed off on the deal in order to get the plants closed down sooner and avoid a protracted legal fight.
“The benefit now is that the company’s not going to sue us,” Mead-Lucero said. “If they had sued us, it would have dragged out for a number of years.”
Pedro Pizarro, president of Midwest Generation's parent company Edison Mission Group, attributed Midwest Generation’s decision to environmental regulations that take effect through 2015.
“Unfortunately, conditions in the wholesale power market simply do not give us a path for continuing to invest in further retrofits at these two facilities,” Pizarro said in a press release. “This is an extremely difficult decision because of the men and women who work in these plants and take great pride in their contribution to a reliable and affordable supply of electricity. We will work in good faith with leadership of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to manage a transition for the dedicated professionals they represent.”
Going forward, the biggest challenge will be to deal with the empty plant and the contamination it’ll leave behind at the site. Once it closes, Midwest Generation said they’ll maintain it “in a safe and prudent manner as redevelopment opportunities and funding are explored.”
Shutting down the plant is still subject to approval by PJM Interconnection, which manages the electric grid for 13 states including Northeastern Illinois, according to the release. PJM must determine that the retirements do not pose a risk to the reliability of the grid, the release said.
Solis said he’d like to see it turned into a park or bring in some new industry to replace the jobs that’ll be lost.
“We’ve got some responsibilities there for the plant,” Solis said. “How do we clean it up, what are some options that make sense for the community, whether it’s green space or a light industrial company coming in and creating some jobs and paying some taxes.”
“As huge of a victory as this is, there’s another phase,” he said. “We need to make sure the site gets remediated and whatever replaces it doesn’t pollute.”