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August 31, 2012

My Hometown's Coal Plant Remorse

SmogCoal is again proving to be a bad investment. But this time, it’s personal.

Peabody’s Prairie State Energy Campus (PSEC) is a huge (1600-megawatt) new coal plant and mine that is near completion in downstate Illinois. PSEC is the most recent coal plant to be built in the U.S., and hopefully the last. More than 200 municipalities across eight states – from Missouri to West Virginia -- signed contracts to be part investors in the plant. One of these municipalities is my hometown of St. Charles, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.

Peabody came to my town offering the dream of low-cost, reliable, clean electricity. They promised a thirty year supply of cheap "clean" coal. They promised control through partial ownership of the Prairie State Energy Campus. Since that time, Peabody has broken all of their promises.

This week the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis released a report entitled, “The Prairie State Coal Plant: The Reality vs. the Promise.” The report explains the broken promises made by Peabody to these municipalities.

The company promised the coal ash leftover from the plant would be stored in abandoned mines with enough capacity to hold all the ash for 30 years.  Instead they are planning to destroy 670 football fields worth of productive Illinois farm land and covering two streams to pile coal ash 20 stories high. 

Peabody promised my town reliability, but the plant has been operating off and on since it went into commercial production in mid-June.  They promised control by courting my city as partial owners in the plant. Yet our city council has no control of the many escalating costs.

I cringe when I think about the fact that the high school that I graduated from, St. Charles North High School -- a place I hold very dearly in my heart -- is powered by Peabody’s polluting coal plant. I have devoted my life to working to transition our country away from dirty and dangerous coal and towards clean energy. Because of its contribution to climate disruption, coal is not part of the energy future I envision for the world I want to live in.

But on top of that, Peabody has not kept its promises it made with my hometown. My former high school is paying nearly double for their electricity than what they were promised by Peabody. Our neighboring city (and rival!) Aurora recently chose to purchase 100% renewable energy, and is currently paying 20% less than St. Charles is for electricity.

From one news article about the report:

“Our study estimates that actual electricity costs for many municipalities will exceed $80 a megawatt hour in the first year, and therefore be over 100 percent of the costs promised by Peabody and Prairie State,” said Tom Sanzillo, finance director for the institute that did the analysis….

Although Prairie State promised a rate of $41 per megawatt hour, it charged $57.682 per megawatt hour, according to a bill from (the Northern Illinois Municipal Power Agency) obtained by the Sierra Club through the Freedom of Information Act.

The New York Times’ Green blog goes into good detail on the plant’s high expense so far as well.

The Prairie State Energy Campus is a boondoggle. My hometown, and all of the U.S., can do better with clean energy.

-- Kady McFadden, Beyond Coal Organizer in Illinois


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