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Vistra says ‘extraordinary leadership’ enabling Illinois’ transition away from coal

Vistra’s large-scale battery storage project at Moss Landing, California, which repurposed a natural gas plant site. Image: Vistra Energy.

Vistra Energy has welcomed the enactment of clean energy policies in Illinois which the power generation company said will support 300MW of solar and 150MW of battery storage to be built at nine of its coal plant sites. 

Last week the Illinois Senate passed SB2408, the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, and state governor J.B. Pritzker has said he is looking forward to signing it into law as soon as possible. It commits to reaching 50% renewables by 2040 and 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045.

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In a state which like much of the rest of the Midwest US has long been heavily dependent on coal, the act includes provisions to help retrain coal industry workers and support communities to justly transition to the coming clean energy economy. Coal plants in the state must be retired by 2030. 

It also included a Coal to Solar and Storage Initiative, which will make US$280.5 million available to energy storage projects installed at retiring coal plant sites. Vistra Energy, which operates coal plants around Illinois had previously advocated for such a plan, reiterating this call in April as it announced that economic conditions had brought forwards a planned plant closure from 2025 to 2022

Seven Senators had sponsored a Coal to Solar & Energy Storage Act and Vistra this week welcomed its incorporation into the final SB2408 legislation. Vistra only acquired its Illinois coal fleet in 2018, but had already announced its intention to close the last of its coal plants by 2027.

In a release on 15 September the company confirmed its previously stated intention to deploy the utility-scale solar and energy storage at nine retired or soon-to-be-retired facilities and to invest around US$550 million in doing so. 

Vistra also provided details of the six solar-plus-storage and three standalone battery energy storage system (BESS) projects that it intends to build at those sites, starting in 2023 and completing and commissioning the last of them by 2025. It said that standalone BESS projects are planned for sites that were found to not be suitable to host solar PV generation: 

Utility-scale solar-plus-storage

Baldwin68MW solar PV, 9MW BESS
Coffeen44MW solar PV, 6MW BESS
Duck Creek 20MW solar PV, 3MW BESS
Hennepin50MW solar PV, 6MW BESS
Kincaid60MW solar PV, 8MW BESS
Newton 52MW solar PV, 7MW BESS

Standalone battery energy storage

Edwards37MW BESS
Havana37MW BESS

The company said it will be able to utilise existing grid connections and transmission line infrastructure and CEO Curt Morgan praised the “extraordinary leadership, diligence and dedication” of state senators and Governor Pritzker in getting the clean energy act passed. 

The nine sites’ construction would create over 2,200 full-time equivalent jobs, with workers earning about US$180 million and give the state’s economy an uplift of more than US$300 million between 2022 and 2025. 

“We commend Illinois’ leaders and are grateful that they have taken bold action through a comprehensive measure that includes a first-in-the-nation program to transition the state’s fleet of legacy coal plant sites into zero-emission, renewable energy centers. Coal to Solar is good for the environment, plant communities, consumers, and Illinois’ economy,” Morgan said.

“Vistra is committed to the transition away from carbon-intense generation, but we can’t overlook the impact plant retirements have on workers and plant communities who face an uncertain future. We will support our dedicated energy workers, provide certainty, and have an orderly retirement process. This innovative framework facilitates action and reinvestment at our downstate Illinois plant sites, ensuring they can remain the economic engines for decades to come, providing a responsible and just transition for plant communities.”

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