Local coalition urges responsible transition away from coal to local clean energy development
WAUKEGAN, Ill. –(ENEWSPF)—August 7, 2014. Today, New Jersey-based NRG Energy announced it would continue to burn coal with interim pollution controls at the 60-year-old Waukegan coal plant on the shore of Lake Michigan.
“”Every family has the right to breathe clean air,” said Waukegan mother Dulce Ortiz. “NRG’S decision to continue burning coal on the Waukegan lakefront saddles our community with many more years of pollution at a time when we are calling out for a cleaner future for our lakefront and local clean energy development. We’ll continue to push NRG to set a reasonable retirement date for its dirty relic of the past and focus on boosting clean energy here in our community.”
Pollution from the Waukegan coal plant contributes to poor air quality in Lake County. In addition to seeing the highest ozone smog levels in Illinois, Lake County air quality is also currently in “non-attainment” for small particulates that contribute to asthma attacks, asthma hospitalizations and other respiratory trauma. The asthma rates among children in Waukegan are incredibly high, around 32 percent compared to the national average of 10 percent. While the pollution control technology set to be installed by NRG will cut some of the asthma-inducing sulfur dioxide pollution, the carbon pollution output from the plant will still exacerbate the health impacts of climate disruption. The controls will also do nothing to address the consistent water pollution issues from the coal ash ponds that sit right next to Lake Michigan.
“Today’s announcement proved NRG is not yet serious about investing in a clean, healthy future for Waukegan residents,” said Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health programs at Respiratory Health Association. “With continued coal use, threats such as heatwaves, dirty air and spreading disease will intensify, harming the health of vulnerable populations including children, seniors and people living with lung disease.”
NRG, a New Jersey-based power producer, acquired the Waukegan coal plant – along with four other Illinois coal plants – in March 2014 from the bankrupt Midwest Generation and Edison Mission Energy. NRG CEO David Crane has worked hard to publicly position NRG on the leading edge of the energy sector’s shift with significant investments in wind and solar. NRG’s Illinois business stands in stark contrast to NRG’s reputation as a clean energy leader, with its five large, outdated coal-fired power plants forming the basis of NRG’s Illinois operation.
“Lake County is teeming with opportunity for clean energy development, said Mary Mathews, Lake County resident and member of the League of Women Voters of Lake County. “Burning coal in our community will never be clean, and we’re ready for a new future that protects Lake Michigan and the air we breathe.”
Since arriving in Lake County in early 2014, NRG has been in the spotlight. The Clean Power Lake County Campaign recently delivered 2,500 petitions calling on the company to build a responsible transition plan beyond coal in the city of Waukegan and to make smart clean energy investments in Lake County. A week later, 26 Lake County public officials echoed the call to NRG for a plan for the Waukegan coal plant and clean energy investments.
“The community of Waukegan has seen its fair share of polluters that leave a toxic legacy on the city’s lakefront,” said Susana Figueroa, Waukegan resident and member of faith group Faith in Place. “Waukegan and Lake County citizens will continue working for a future that doesn’t include burning fossil fuels on the shores of Lake Michigan. Lake County communities are ready to build a local clean energy economy.”
“Coal contributes to harmful air pollution, climate-disrupting carbon pollution and the millions of gallons of coal ash waste water dumped into Lake Michigan,” said Sister Kathleen Long, Director of the Father Gary Graf Center with Most Blessed Trinity Catholic Parish in Waukegan. “NRG has a moral obligation to collaborate with Waukegan and Lake County citizens in a dialogue about the long-term use of Waukegan’s lakefront because we envision a new reality for the future of our community.”
In addition to the Waukegan coal plant, NRG owns the Powerton, Joliet 9, Joliet 29, and Will County coal-fired power plants in central and northern Illinois. These coal plants have operated for years without modern pollution controls and are currently responsible for a combined 125 deaths, 196 heart attacks and 2,123 asthma attacks every year, according the Clean Air Task Force.
Beyond installing pollution controls at the Waukegan coal plant, NRG will cease burning coal at one generating unit at the Will County plant in Romeoville and at its Joliet 29 and 9 coal plants, but continue to run the Joliet plants as natural gas units. NRG will continue to burn coal at its Waukegan plant north of Chicago and at its Powerton plant in central Illinois with interim pollution control technology installed, and at a unit in Will County without any environmental upgrades.
The Clean Power Lake County Coalition aims to bring the Lake County community together to build a just future of clean air, clean water and a revitalized lakefront in Lake County. The coalition consists of the Most Blessed Trinity Catholic Parish of Waukegan, NAACP Lake County Branch, League of Women Voters of Lake County, the Sierra Club Woods and Wetlands Group, Faith in Place, Christ Episcopal Church of Waukegan, the Exchange Club of North Chicago, Respiratory Health Association, Incinerator Free Lake County, the Agg’in Tribe, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Waukegan Water Street Gallery and the Waukegan Bike Project