Illinois will become less reliant on coal-fired power plants by the end of the year.
Under an arrangement with the state, Vistra Energy soon will shut down 40 percent of its eight-facility fleet in central and southern Illinois.
Phil Gonet, president of the Illinois Coal Association, said that could cause problems.
“We think it’s very dangerous to embark on a policy to replace baseload power, which operates all the time and is available all the time, with unreliable energy from renewables,” Gonet said.
Baseload power sources are available at all times. Sources include coal, nuclear, and natural gas.
“Baseload power is something that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year,” Gonet said. “And there are three sources for that: coal, nuclear, and natural gas. Renewable energy is only available a portion of the time, about one-third of the time.”
Gonet said the closures won’t come as a surprise. But he said he is concerned that supply shortages in certain weather events in the future, such as extreme cold, could result in outages or scarcity of energy.
Despite arguments to the contrary, Gonet insisted coal still is a cheap and plentiful source of power.
“Renewable energy can only compete with baseload energy because of the massive subsidies that they get from the federal tax code,” Gonet said. “When you measure the price of electricity in cents per BTU, coal is the lowest. If you took away all the subsidies, coal could compete and coal can compete.”
The news comes as state lawmakers continue to debate the future of the Clean Energy Jobs Act. The legislation sets a goal of making Illinois’ power grid free of carbon-based fuels by 2030, and would put the entire state on a path to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. As of 2018, renewable energy resources accounted for slightly more than 7 percent of net electricity generated in Illinois.
“My point is the Clean Energy Jobs Act is a blackout plan,” Gonet said. “You’re forcing the closure of baseload power and replacing it with unreliable electricity. It hasn’t happened yet, but at some point in the future people will die because they don’t have the electricity.”
Vistra employs about 1,000 workers across its eight Illinois coal plants. Gonet said job losses could occur in the communities where the shutdowns happen, but coal production in the state won’t be affected. The units subject to closure use cleaner- burning coal from Wyoming.