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Photo by Diane Cox
Table discussions took place during the meeting to bring up topics for a large group discussion as well as questions for Dynegy President and CEO Bob Flexon.
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Photo by Diane Cox
Alton Mayor Brant Walker, East Alton Mayor Joe Silkwood and Wood River Mayor Frank Akers (from left) spoke publicly in a town hall meeting Tuesday evening at Jacoby Arts Center. Residents, county officials and organizations discussed concerns over the closing of the Dynegy power plant.
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Photo by Diane Cox
Dynegy President and CEO Bob Flexon answered questions for more than 100 guests at the meeting.
ALTON — A town hall meeting organized to clear the air answered some questions while raising others.
The Sierra Club’s Piasa Palisades group, along with area municipalities and the RiverBend Growth Association, hosted the event Tuesday at Jacoby Arts Center in Alton to discuss the future of Dynegy Inc. In early November, Dynegy announced plans to close its 465-megawatt coal-fired power plant in East Alton.
More than 100 local residents, elected officials and Dynegy employees reviewed options regarding environmental concerns as well as the economic impact on the region if and when the plant is closed. Considering the likelihood of the plant closing, the main topic of discussion included the process of cleaning out hazardous materials from the 450 acres of land.
Sierra Club Chairperson Laura Asher said she was pleased with the turnout and proactive response.
Guests were given 30 minutes to have table discussions with officials and Dynegy employees.
“We have community leaders, business leaders and industry leaders uniting to start the conversation of what’s next,” Asher said. “We wanted to give the community the opportunity to come together to discuss future problems that could occur with the plant closure and the cleanup, as well as ideas for that location that can benefit the region.
“A broad range of thoughts have come out of the table discussions.”
Mitchell resident Ron Trimmer, also a member of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, said he was pleased to hear news of the plant’s closing.
“The effects these power plants have on our climate is harmful,” Trimmer said. “I’m concerned with the removal of hazardous materials near the Wood River Creek that feeds directly into the Mississippi River.”
In question are plans and methods to dispose of the ash ponds that surround the power plant containing fly ash (one of the naturally occurring products from the coal combustion process, similar to volcanic ash).
Dynegy has estimated the cleanup cost to reach $18 million, but Dynegy President and CEO Bob Flexon said that was just an estimate.
“Between geologists, environmental experts and tests conducted, we are using the figure of $18 million to start with,” Flexon said. “If it costs more to clean it up, we’ll pay more. If it costs less, we’ll pay less. We are going to take care of this region and leave it in the best condition possible.”
Flexon then answered questions pertaining to reasons as to why the company reached its decision to close and what it would take to keep it open.
Three local mayors, including Alton Mayor Brant Walker, East Alton Mayor Joe Silkwood and Wood River Mayor Frank Akers, also shared their ideas and concerns with citizens when it came to the long-term effects of the plant’s closure.
Silkwood said his first option would be to find a way to keep the plant in operation, as the economic loss would affect most of the Riverbend.
“Before we can move forward, we need to look at what we’re losing,” Silkwood said. “Not only will the more than 90 employees be affected with the loss of a very good-paying job that provides excellent benefits, the region will lose out on more than $12 million a year being spent by those employees in our area businesses. The loss is significant.”
If it’s determined the coal plant is not needed for reliability, then the estimated closure date is June 1, 2016.
“The problem in Central and Southern Illinois is the market is not designed to be a competitive market,” Flexon said. “Our decision is based solely on economic problems, not environmental. The difference is between being regulated and unregulated. Power plants in northern Illinois and surrounding states are compensated differently so they can underbid those power plants in Central and Southern Illinois. We can’t compete because we are given a different set of rules when it comes to compensation.
“The Illinois government in Springfield needs to level the playing field in order for us to be competitive.”
Flexon explained the current market design of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator Inc. (MISO) capacity auction is flawed because it allows regulated utilities from surrounding states to bid their capacity into the auction at little or no cost. Regulated utilities receive higher guaranteed compensation from their respective state-regulated markets. Central and Southern Illinois market participants operate in a deregulated state and must rely on the MISO capacity auction for fair compensation.
With the closing, tax revenue could be affected in totals of more than $340,000 for East Alton and the East Alton Library, $130,000 for Wood River and Wood River Township, nearly $13,000 for St. Louis Regional Airport, more than $100,000 for Lewis and Clark Community College, more than $40,000 for Madison County, and more than $750,000 for Alton School District, for a total potential tax revenue impact loss of $1,485,667.
Silkwood said he was pleased with the turnout, noting it showed how many sectors of the public will be affected by the outcome. A decision on the plant’s future could be made as soon as next month.