CHICAGO (AP) -- The Illinois Pollution Control Board agreed Thursday to give a Texas company extra time to install pollution controls at five Illinois coal-fired power plants, saying it would be an economic hardship for the company to do it sooner.
The panel voted 3-1 to grant a pollution-control waiver to Houston-based Dynegy Inc., which still must acquire the plants from Ameren Corp., but said it would be several hours before the opinion was available to the public. Chairwoman Deanna Glosser cast the only dissenting vote, saying she did not believe the company demonstrated an economic hardship.
Environmental groups opposed the waiver, saying the delay would hurt public health and the Dynegy knew the pollution controls were needed when it agreed to acquire the plants.
"Delaying these protections ... comes at a high cost to Illinois families and communities," said Andrew Armstrong, a staff attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center.
Dynegy had said acquiring the plants from St. Louis-based Ameren, a company so eager to shed them that it's essentially giving them away, would provide the best future for the plants, their employees and surrounding communities.
But the company said it wanted the same kind of waiver that Ameren had received from the state — delaying installation of required soot-control upgrades until 2020 — or the deal could be off.
Spokespeople from Ameren and Dynegy said the companies would not comment until they review the text of the order.
Ameren got the original waiver after claiming a financial hardship that could force it to close some of its plants and cut hundreds of jobs. Dynegy has said the same conditions exist if it acquires the plants, including lower electricity prices driven, in part, by competition from natural gas-fired plants.
Several hundred people are employed at Ameren's five plants — Duck Creek in the Fulton County town of Canton, E.D. Edwards in Peoria County's Bartonville, Coffeen in Montgomery County, Newton in Jasper County, and Joppa in Massac County. The five contribute more than $1 billion to the economy, the companies have said, and local officials have led a campaign to back Dynegy's waiver request.
The Pollution Control Board said Ameren's E.D. Edwards plant should be retired as soon as possible. Any closures first must be approved by the region's grid operated, the Carmel, Ind.-based not-for-profit Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator.
That's because coal plants still are essential to keeping the lights on in Illinois and elsewhere, generating 48 percent of power sent to the electric grid in a 15-state region that includes Illinois, MISO officials have said.