What has happened this week is nothing short of amazing and the story only keeps getting better. This week, power producers Edison International and GenOn announced the pending closure of almost 4,000MW of coal plants across Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania. In Chicago, more than decade of activism came to fruition as Edison International announced the closure of Fisk Generating Station by the end of this year and Crawford Generating Station by the end of 2014. The unparalleled speed of these closures largely stems from a broad-based coalition determined not to accept false solutions like natural gas as a next-worst alternative to coal power.
While Edison’s initial announcement generated ample enthusiasm and relief in its own right, the news is just the tip of the iceberg. Much larger, historic changes loom as some analysts suggest that Edison might close all 5,400MW of its Illinois coal plants. On top of that, just yesterday, Edison’s Mission Energy subsidiary announced that it will partner with pension fund TIAA-CREF to develop wind energy across the country.
On the jobs front, a suburban Chicago-based investment firm advised Edison on how to structure this exciting new venture. This underscores the fact that the transition to 100% renewable energy could generate good paying jobs. At the same time, additional investments in renewable energy enhance Chicago’s status a global renewable energy development hub that spurs economic development across the Midwest. Given Illinois’ leading role in renewable energy today, the failure of the Federal government to renew expiring tax credits for renewable energy stands to kill more Illinois jobs than Edison closing all of its Illinois coal plants.
To put Edison’s recent shifts in perspective, a business unit that generated almost all of its energy from coal this year is contemplating a shift to 100% renewable energy in a matter of a few years. All of this shows that an Energy [R]evolution is not only feasible, but profitable, job-creating and a means of providing stable investment returns and quality retirement for millions of Americans. Utilities like Duke and Progress who stand at a similar crossroads should take note, especially as Duke plans to open Cliffside 6 and Edwardsport, two new multi-billion dollar coal plants, later this year.
As Duke’s new coal units clearly show, the campaign to make America clean and coal-free is not over. While Edison just cut its ties with the dirtiest power plant in the country, Homer City Generating Station in Pennsylvania, the plant may soon get a new lease on life when its owner, General Electric (GE) takes back control. While Edison showed good judgment in casting the plant aside, GE plans to dump $750m into pollution controls at the plant. Even after installing controls, the plant would continue to belch out thousands of tons of asthma causing, heart-attack inducing and climate changing gases into Pennsylvania’s air. The move would also generate even larger amounts of toxic coal ash from some of the dirtiest coal in North America. This blunts GE’s recent announcement of expanded investment in renewable energy and threatens to be every bit as much of a boondoggle for GE investors as when Edison bought its six Illinois coal plants in the first place.