Illinois on Track to Drop Carbon Emissions from Electricity Use by 22 percent by 2030

With Climate Risks Growing, Illinois Must Retire More Coal, Science Group Says

Published Oct 24, 2018

CHICAGO (October 24, 2018)—Under Illinois’ current plan to increase the amount of renewable power on its grid, the state will reduce the electricity sector’s carbon emissions by 22 percent by 2030. But if Dynegy-Vistra closes six additional economically-struggling coal plants in the same period, the state could reduce its emissions by as much as 48 percent by 2030 and prevent nearly 1,000 premature deaths because of less air pollution, according to an analysis released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

In 2016, the state legislature passed the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) that strengthened both the Illinois Renewable Portfolio Standard and the Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard and is hastening the transition away from coal generation. While no coal plants in Illinois are scheduled to close today, the UCS modeling showed that coal generation in the state could decrease by nearly a quarter by 2030 as the state implements FEJA and transitions to clean energy. 

The UCS analysis also found that taking an even more proactive approach and closing more coal plants and replacing them primarily with renewable power, battery storage and energy efficiency programs would yield greater benefits in terms of carbon emissions reductions, public health outcomes and ratepayer savings.

“If Illinois wants to be a climate leader, wants to protect its residents’ health and wants to clean up its air, then we must close additional coal plants and close them faster,” said Jessica Collingsworth, report co-author and lead Midwest energy policy analyst and advocate at UCS. 

Shuttering six of Dynegy-Vistra’s economically-struggling plants—for which the company unsuccessfully sought state subsidies last year—and replacing them with solar, wind and other clean energy prior to 2030 would not only prevent nearly 1,000 premature deaths, it would result in the avoidance of almost 600 heart attacks, more than 400 asthma emergency room visits, nearly 300 cardiovascular and respiratory hospital admissions and about 250 incidents of chronic bronchitis, according to the analysis. This would occur because sulfur dioxide pollution would drop 57 percent and nitrogen oxides pollution would drop 61 percent as the plants closed. Those pollutants lead to dangerous levels of soot and smog that contribute to heart and lung diseases.

In addition, because the coal generation would be replaced with increased investments in energy efficiency, Illinoisans could see their electricity bills drop by $93 per year by 2030, according to the study.

“Retiring more coal plants, beyond what will be shut down because of current policies, doesn’t just make the air cleaner and our lungs healthier, it means savings for our pocketbooks, too,” said James Gignac, report co-author and lead Midwest energy analyst at UCS. 

The UCS study also analyzed the impact of closing just the Waukegan and E.D. Edwards (in Bartonville, near Peoria) plants in the next decade. The study found carbon emissions in the state would drop 33 percent by 2030 and more than 400 premature deaths would be avoided if those two plants were closed. In addition, sulfur dioxide pollution would decrease 45 percent and nitrogen oxide pollution would decrease 40 percent. Ratepayers could see their electricity bills drop by $102 per year by 2030. Leaders in both communities have advocated for years for a just transition plan upon the plants’ retirement.

Waukegan is owned by NRG Energy and E.D. Edwards is owned by Dynegy-Vistra. The study found the Waukegan plant could be fully replaced with clean energy alternatives with no impact to power reliability, in contrast with recent comments by NRG Energy that cited reliability as the rationale for a proposed federal bailout of its coal power plants.

“Illinois has numerous health, economic and environmental benefits at stake and policymakers need to closely consider all the energy proposals they receive,” said Collingsworth. “The best policies will do right by the communities historically most affected by power industry pollution, while they drive down carbon emissions that cause climate change and keep electricity bills from rising.”