Solar and wind can safely replace coal in Southern Illinois

The effort to keep aged coal plants operating in Southern Illinois through subsidies was savaged in a report issued by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Sierra Club. Eight coal power plants, totaling over 5,900 MW of capacity and averaging 53 years of age, are owned by Dynegy, now a unit of Texas-based Vistra Energy, which is demanding subsidies to keep them open

Dynergy says that if it doesn’t get the subsidies, the plants will be shuttered between 2020 and 2025.

The report states that the “retirement of the Dynegy-Vistra plants does not adversely affect…resource adequacy or electricity supply”, and that the Southern Illinois Zone 4 of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) maintains excess capacity through 2030, which is being and will be addressed by new solar, wind and gas generation and supported by energy storage and continued energy efficiency. Reliability will also not be affected in Commonwealth Edison’s service area in northern Illinois, which is part of the PJM Interconnection grid.

Furthermore, the report states that the new sources can generate electricity for the ratepayers in Ameren and other utilities in Southern Illinois at a cost billions of dollars lower than from the superannuated coal plants, especially with the subsidies demanded by Dynegy-Vistra and proposed in Illinois legislation. Carbon dioxide and other pollutants from electricity generation would also be nearly totally eliminated by replacing coal generation with new renewables and other sources. The coal plant retirements would free up transmission capacity for new power and storage sources to come online between now and 2030.

The solar industry, thanks to the Future Energy Jobs Act and lower cost installations, stands ready to fill its share of the new power market. The MISO Generator Interconnection Queue shows twenty solar projects of over 2,000 MW capacity in active process located in southern Illinois’ Zone 4 . About 635 MW are scheduled to be interconnected in 2019, 1,400 MW in 2020 and 635 MW in 2021. All of these projects are larger than 2 MW-AC in capacity. ComEd’s district also shows considerable growth potential. The PJM Renewable Energy Dashboard shows 38 solar projects with over 1,700 MW of capacity in the interconnection queue in the northern part of the state.

These totals do not include net metered distributed generation such as rooftop solar or community solar installations smaller than 2 MW. Up to a 1,000 MW of net metered systems are in the interconnection process in Illinois, with community solar installations in ComEd’s territory representing the large majority. There could be a considerable number of projects falling by the wayside due to interconnection, permit and zoning issues, as well as financial problems. The surviving projects will dwarf Illinois installed solar capacity of 83 MW at the end of 2017, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), and could exceed SEIA’s market growth estimate of 1,500 MW over the next five years.