The Fisk and Crawford coal-fired power plants, long blamed for cardiovascular and respiratory disease in Pilsen and Little Village, will be closing by the end of 2014 per terms of an agreement this week with the City of Chicago and Midwest Generation.
Chicago is the only major U.S. city with coal plants still operating within its borders. For years, environmental and community groups have blamed Fisk and Crawford for high asthma rates and other health problems in their predominantly Latino, low-income neighborhoods. A 2010 report by the National Research Council estimated that pollution from the coal plants costs surrounding areas $127 million a year in hidden health costs.
About 180 workers will be laid off, but electric rates won’t change because the plants are closing. Midwest Generation, which bought the coal plants from ComEd in 1999, sells its power on the open market and, like many other coal-dependent companies, has found it increasingly difficult for its smallest, least-efficient plants to compete with nuclear power, natural gas, wind energy and newer coal plants.
“They were only going to spend money on these plants if they thought customers would pay high enough prices to make the investments worthwhile,” said Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, one of the groups behind a proposed city ordinance that targeted Fisk and Crawford. “With natural gas prices low and electricity demand flat, they ran out of excuses to keep running these dirty old clunkers.”
During a conference call with investors and an interview later with the Tribune, company officials said Wednesday the cheapest natural gas in a decade has sapped Midwest Generation’s ability to make money from the Chicago plants.
“We just don’t see a viable path to operate and retrofit those plants,” said Doug McFarlan, a Midwest Generation spokesman. “We would like to move on.”
According to data submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, these two plants are responsible for nearly 90 percent of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions from industrial sources within the city. The issues relating to the Fisk and Crawford plants are examined in several Roosevelt University seminars, including SUST 210 The Sustainable Future and SUST 310 Energy and Climate Change. For more information on these or any other of our courses, please visit our Sustainability Studies website, call 1-877-277-5978 (1-877-APPLY RU) or email applyRU@roosevelt.edu.