Midwest Gen seeks relief from emission standards
By Tony Graf firstname.lastname@example.org January 29, 2013 9:56PM
Douglas McFarlan (at left), president of Midwest Generation, raises his hand as he is sworn in to testify during an Illinois Pollution Control Board hearing on Midwest Generation's request on a variance to operate its local plants at the Health Professions Center at Joliet Junior College Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 2, 2013 7:07AM
JOLIET — Midwest Generation asked a state panel Tuesday to allow the financially troubled company to exceed pending new pollution limits at its coal-fired power plants, including those in Joliet and Romeoville.
Company leaders appeared at Joliet Junior College for a hearing before the Illinois Pollution Control Board, seeking temporary relief in 2015 and 2016 from new caps on sulfur dioxide emissions at their plants. The company also has a coal-fired plant in Waukegan.
Midwest Generation wants an alternative rate of emissions allowed and a new limit on tons of emissions during those two years. It still would reduce emissions at its plants but not as much as the original rule required, company officials said.
They’re also is seeking a five-month extension regarding emission-control equipment requirements for one unit at the Waukegan plant.
In December, Midwest Generation filed for bankruptcy. It operates a coal-fired power plant in downstate Pekin as well as the Chicago-area ones.
President Douglas McFarlan said Midwest Generation remains committed to reducing air emissions but needs relief “as a last resort based on financial hardship caused by economic and market circumstances that could not have been foreseen” when the new pollution standards were negotiated in 2006 and adopted in 2007.
“We would not be here if we had not concluded that we had exhausted every self-help measure reasonably available to us — financially, technically and operationally,” McFarlan said. “In fact, we’ve been fully compliant with the rule from 2008 to the present. And we continue to comply with the original limit of the rule in 2013 and ’14, even if this variance is granted.”
If the state allows the variance, Midwest Generation would continue to pursue the goals of state environmental regulations, McFarlan said.
“Even with the variance, we will be investing in the design, planning, and/or installation of emission controls every year to 2019, just as we have done every year since 2007,” he said.
The company faces tough decisions, McFarlan told pollution control board members.
“This is what we consider to be a very limited variance, to put us in the best possible position to make some very tough decisions about investments that we can make, operations that we can sustain and living-wage jobs of hard-working men and women that we can preserve,” he said.
“We face near-term decisions that we need to begin making almost immediately, with respect to investing hundreds of millions of additional dollars in capital investments in emission controls.”
The Midwest Generation plants in Joliet and Romeoville have installed controls that reduce mercury emissions by more than 90 percent, McFarlan said, and other controls installed in 2011 reduce nitrogen oxide emissions.
“There has been a lot of work done at those plants,” he said. “And that will continue, even if this variance is granted.”
Citizens Against Ruining the Environment, a Lockport-based environmental group, opposes giving Midwest Generation the variance, director Ellen Rendulich said.
“Sulfur dioxide poses a serious threat to our health and our environment. It contributes to asthma attacks, chronic pulmonary disease, along with respiratory diseases,” Rendulich said. “And the pollution it forms in the atmosphere has been linked to cardiovascular problems and premature death. That could be me, my family, my friends, or any of us here today.”
State Sen. Pat McGuire (D-Joliet) supported Midwest Generation’s request for relief.
“Similar to many in this industry, Midwest Generation is experiencing financial difficulties,” McGuire said. “At the same time, it is required to make additional capital investments to meet new air quality regulations.”
State Rep. Larry Walsh Jr. (D-Elwood) also supported the company’s request.
“Midwest Generation has made it clear that when all is said and done in the year 2019, it will have met every single regulatory requirement affecting emissions from these plants,” he said.