Coal-fired power plants could join enterprise zone
By Brock A. Stein Correspondent January 3, 2013 10:28AM
Updated: February 7, 2013 6:23AM
Romeoville trustees have approved two Midwest Generation power plant sites to become members of the Des Plaines River Valley Enterprise Zone, a 12.78-acre area in Will County.
The village was the last government entity to approve Midwest Generation’s inclusion in the zone with Joliet, Will County, Lockport and Rockdale all giving approval for the coal-fired electrical plants’ entry. Pending approval by the enterprise zone board, the power plants could be eligible for state tax breaks that will allow for environmental upgrades to the two facilities.
The two plants are at 1800 Channahon Road in Joliet and 529 E. 135th St. in unincorporated Romeoville.
The zone was created in 1983 with Romeoville joining in 1989, Village Administrator Steve Gulden said.
Gulden said that the zone was created to attract investment and encourage development in Will County.
The administrator noted that the village would not be making final approval of the power generator’s planned environmental upgrades to its two facilities, and was not offering to contribute any local benefits to the project.
Once approved by Romeoville, a separate zone governing board would make final recommendation of the project.
The planned upgrades will mean up to $100 million in investment in the two Will County plants and several hundred jobs during the upgrade period.
Mayor John Noak noted the impact on more than 400 families with employees working at the plants, with about 80 percent of those positions union labor.
“Ultimately all of those jobs are at stake if the generation plant is not able to get its upgrades where it needs to be with the state [of Illinois],” said Noak.
With Midwest Generation’s parent company, Edison Mission Energy, filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December, Noak noted the financial strain the company is under in order to get the improvements made.
“We want to do that in a way that allows the company to continue to survive but in a more environmentally friendly way,” he said, noting the negative impact the loss of property taxes from the plants could have on the adjacent school districts.
Whatever the benefits to keeping the plants viable, Noak emphasized: “It is key that the environmental aspects are what is sought and what this partnership is seeking to accomplish.”
The Joliet and Romeoville plants generate just more than 1,800 megawatts of electricity, powering about 200,000 homes, but environmental regulations that went in to effect at the start of the year from the state of Illinois require the producers to remove smog-causing nitrogen oxide and acid rain causing sulfur dioxide. Two of the company’s coal powered plants in Chicago were shuttered in September.
Lower natural gas prices along with tighter environmental regulations have made the economics of running the coal-fired plants a tougher go in recent years, said Scott Perry, director of the Will County plant.
Before the vote, Will Grundy Building Trades Council representative Robert Schwartz of Shorewood encouraged the trustees to approve the measures to ensure future jobs for area tradesmen.
“These jobs are highly needed,” said Schwartz.