Soot to Solar: Closing Coal Plants Will Save Lives, Reduce Bills

Marchers near NRG coal plant in Waukegan
About 150 Lake County residents march toward NRG’s coal-fired power plant during a November 2015 vigil. [Karen Long MacLeod/CPLC photo]
If Waukegan’s coal-fired power plant closed tomorrow, all of our lights would stay on—and 143 lives would be saved between 2022 and 2030, according to Soot to Solar: Illinois’ Clean Energy Transition, an analysis released October 24, 2018, by Union of Concerned Scientists.

In fact, the faster Illinois can retire its aging, inefficient coal plants—a critical step in the clean energy transition—the greater the benefits will be for communities across the state, according to the analysis.

Here’s how closing up to nine dirty coal plants will help Illinoisans:

  • Reduce CO2 emissions by up to 51%
  • Prevent more than 1,100 premature deaths
  • Save each consumer household nearly $100 a year on their electricity bills

Celeste Flores, Lake County Outreach Director for Faith in Place and co-chair of Clean Power Lake County, and Jessica Collingsworth, Lead Midwest Energy Policy Analyst/Advocate at Union of Concerned Scientists) discussed the energy and health benefits of a just transition to renewable energy report on WBEZ’s Worldview on November 13, 2018. Listen to the WBEZ program here.

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Clean Energy Jobs Act: CPLC Supports Landmark Legislation

Illinois Clean Jobs Act press conference
Dulce Ortiz of Clean Power Lake County (fifth from left) and other partners in the Illinois Jobs Coalition introduce the Clean Energy Jobs Act in Springfield. [ILCJ photo]
It’s time for 100% clean energy in Illinois. Are you in?

Clean Power Lake County is definitely in! We are proud to support the Clean Energy Jobs Act (HB 3624/SB 2132), which would set a path for Illinois to be 100% powered by renewable energy, increase energy efficiency, and invigorate the state’s clean energy sector in an equitable way.

Dulce Ortiz, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County, explains why this bill is so important:

Communities like Waukegan deserve a clean energy future and it’s time for the state of Illinois to be a leader and pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act!

For far too long, frontline communities have historically borne and, to this day, continue to bear the greatest brunt of injustice when it comes to the environment. This legislation says that that no community should be left behind as Illinois builds up its clean and renewable energy economy.

We can do this!

One of the pillars on this bill is to achieve a carbon-free power sector by 2030.

This bill directs the Illinois EPA to begin a comprehensive stakeholder process to reduce harmful pollution from power plants to zero by 2030.

Many coal plant communities around the state have suffered the impacts of coal pollution just like Waukegan. A responsible transition beyond coal would address the largest point source of carbon pollution in Lake County, which is located on the Waukegan lakefront.

We recognize that there are real people, our neighbors, who have worked for years in the fossil fuel industry. That is why this bill calls for the creation of Clean Energy Empowerment Zones, to support communities and workers who are impacted by the decline of fossil fuel generation.

The Clean Energy Jobs Act — introduced February 28, 2019, by partners in the Illinois Clean Jobs coalition — would move Illinois to 100% renewable energy by 2050, cut carbon pollution from the state’s power sector by 2030, and create steps to electrify the transportation sector. At the same time, the legislation would help keep a lid on energy bills and lead to economic benefits, especially in the form of new jobs, for communities that need them the most.

The bill was drafted with the input of communities across the state, including participants in more than 60 “Listen. Lead. Share.” events.

Currently, the Clean Energy Jobs Act is working its way through House committees in the Illinois General Assembly.

Help us pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act (HB 3624/SB 2132). Tell your legislator to vote YES!

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No Coal: Clean Energy Should Be the Goal

A letter by Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health programs for the Respiratory Health Association—a lead partner in the Clean Power Lake County campaign—appeared in the December 7, 2017, edition of the Lake County News-Sun.

Compared to NRG’s coal plant on Waukegan’s lakefront, WE Energies’ Pleasant Prairie coal plant two miles north of the state line is nearly twice as big, half the age and 10 times less polluting. Yet WE Energies is shutting down that power plant this spring and will instead install 1.3 square miles of solar panels in the area by 2020.

That cleaner, newer, less health-damaging coal plant is closing and Wisconsin will see thousands of new solar jobs. Yet Waukegan keeps NRG’s daily deadly pollution and tiny solar projects built for show on a few local schools.

The utility industry has changed dramatically and Waukegan is behind the curve. In 2012, 19 coal power plants ringed Lake Michigan. None had pollution scrubbers. By late 2018, 10 of those will have ceased burning coal. Four more will have installed modern pollution controls that slash lung-damaging emissions 80 percent or more. Of the last five, NRG’s plant is by far the largest polluter operating on 1,600 miles of lakeshore across four states.

Many Lake County leaders, from County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor and County Board member Mary Ross Cunningham to Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering and Zion Mayor Al Hill, have signed the Lake County Climate Action Pledge, aiming to move Lake County beyond coal, adopt ambitious 100 percent clean energy goals, and build climate-resilient infrastructure. In order to protect the health and livelihoods of their constituents, all public officials in Lake County need to sign that pledge.

Source: Lake County New-Sun

The Lake County Climate Action Pledge is an initiative launched by Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor in partnership with the Sierra Club. For details about the central pillars of the pledge, see our September 17, 2017, Launching the Lake County Climate Pledge post.

Waukegan Beach Rally Focuses on Need for Countywide Transition to Clean Energy

More than 100 people who live near Waukegan’s coal-fired power say they are “Moving Toward a #CleanWaukegan” during Clean Power Lake County’s Annual Beach Cleanup. [Photo by Dylan Blake]
At time when the federal government has abdicated its role in climate leadership, Lake County residents who support local action against the climate crisis will gather at the Waukegan lakefront on Saturday, August 26, for the 4th Annual Clean Power Lake County (CPLC) Waukegan Beach Rally and Cleanup. We will join elected officials in focusing on the need to transition Lake County beyond coal in order to create new jobs in the clean energy economy and make sure Lake County’s communities are healthy for decades to come.

In July, Mayor Sam Cunningham and the Waukegan City Council responded to the climate crisis by passing a resolution committing the City of Waukegan to uphold the carbon reduction goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Waukegan is the only Illinois city with an operating coal plant to sign on to the agreement. The Waukegan coal plant, owned by New Jersey-based NRG Energy, is the largest point source of carbon dioxide emissions in Lake County, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The coal plant also is a major source of water pollution, discharging more than 8 million gallons of tainted water, including coal ash wastewater, every day directly into Lake Michigan, according to Dulce Ortiz, co-leader of Clean Power Lake County, a grassroots campaign supported by community, faith, health, and environmental groups.

Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor will be the keynote speaker at the lakefront rally. The Republican official, recognized in 2014 as one of six rising stars in Illinois politics, has worked tirelessly to promote economic development and investments in transportation infrastructure. In December, at an event promoting a national documentary that featured Waukegan as a symbol of the debate over our country’s energy future, Lawlor said that redevelopment of the Waukegan harbor cannot happen with a coal-burning power plant on the lakefront.

Also speaking at the rally will be Angelina Jose, a Waukegan High School graduate who now attends Northwestern University. As an organizing fellow with Clean Power Lake County, Jose has spent the summer helping community members understand how Waukegan can become a leader in sustainability by saying “yes” to clean energy, sustainable economic development, and local job creation.

Event Summary
What: Waukegan Beach Rally and Cleanup
Where: Waukegan Municipal Beach, 201 E. Seahorse Drive, Waukegan, IL
When:  Saturday, August 26, 2017, 10 a.m.

The Waukegan Beach Rally and Cleanup is organized by Clean Power Lake County.

 

We Applaud Waukegan for Committing to Paris Agreement Goals

After over 4 years of climate/environmental advocacy, Clean Power Lake County members commend Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham and the City Council for committing to the Paris Climate Agreement and Compact of Mayors. [Photo by Dylan Blake.]
After more than 4 years of advocating a coal-to-clean energy plan for Waukegan, Clean Power Lake County and our partners now commend Mayor Sam Cunningham and City Council members for making a commitment to act on climate: On July 17, 2017, the Waukegan City Council unanimously passed a resolution committing the City of Waukegan to adopt, honor, and uphold the Paris Climate Agreement goals and authorizing the mayor to commit the city to the Compact of Mayors.

On the Monday night of the vote, 40-plus members of Clean Power Lake County filled the lion’s share of seats in the council chambers. We listened intently as council members voiced their votes one by one. When the eighth alderman said “aye” into the microphone, we leapt to our feet, clapping and cheering.

The City of Waukegan’s decision comes on the heels of President Donald Trump’s announcement that the United States would exit the Paris Agreement. The central aim of the historic international climate accord is to keep a global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Waukegan now joins 357 other cities that have committed to upholding the Paris goals and reducing carbon pollution locally.

Waukegan is the only Illinois city with an active coal plant to sign on to the agreement. The coal plant is owned by New Jersey-based NRG Energy . It is the largest point source of carbon dioxide emissions in Lake County, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Coal-fired power plants are responsible for one-third of U.S. carbon emissions. Reducing carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants was the signature policy of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, designed to meet reduction targets under the Paris Agreement.

“Clean Power Lake County and our partners look forward to working with Mayor Cunningham and City Council in developing a climate action plan that moves Waukegan beyond our legacy of pollution and positions our city as a clean energy leader. This work lies hand-in-hand with the mayor’s goal to revitalize our lakefront and local economy and we encourage City Hall to not waste any time in getting started,” said Rev. Eileen Shanley-Roberts, co-chair of the Clean Power Lake County Campaign.

“Sierra Club applauds Mayor Cunningham and the City of Waukegan for their commitment to climate leadership at this critical moment in our country’s history,” said Julio Guzman, campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “We look forward to working with Mayor Cunningham in developing a strong and just plan to reduce carbon pollution and bring new clean energy investments and jobs to Waukegan. After years of community members speaking out on climate change and urging Waukegan to move beyond coal, this marks an important step forward in charting a new course on environmental leadership for our city.”

Now let’s get to work and reach those goals. Click here to find out how you can get involved.

 

Clean Power Lake County Campaign Is Showcased in One Earth Film Festival

Clean Power Lake County activists and campaign supporters appear in “Years of Living Dangerously: Uprising," one of five environment-themed films to be screened in Lake County as part of the One Earth Film Festival.

Several Clean Power Lake County activists appear in one of five environment-themed films to be screened in Lake County as part of the One Earth Film Festival, March 4-11.

Dulce Ortiz, Rev. Eileen Shanley-Roberts, Sister Kathleen Long, Karen Long MacLeod, Julio Guzman, Celeste Flores, and Christine Nannicelli appear along with hundreds of campaign supporters in “Years of Living Dangerously: Uprising.” The documentary will be shown at 5 p.m. on March 5 at Christ Episcopal Church in Waukegan.

In the documentary, actress America Ferrera follows Clean Power Lake County activists as, over the course of nearly a year, they collect and deliver petitions to the Waukegan City Council, journey to Springfield to advocate for clean energy policy that can provide green jobs, and appeal directly to NRG Energy to work with the community to transition its Waukegan power plant beyond coal.

Audience members will have the chance to meet local activists featured in the film, learn what Clean Power Lake County is doing to move Waukegan beyond coal, and talk with local leaders about how community members can work together to revitalize the Waukegan lakefront.

Here’s the line-up of Lake County showings:

The Lake County showings are free and open to the public. A $6 donation per film is appreciated. For more information, movie trailers and tickets, go to www.oneearthfilmfest.org/films-by-date.

The Lake County screenings are part of the Midwest’s premier environmental film festival. Local sponsors are Citizens Climate Lobby, Clean Power Lake County, College of Lake County, Faith in Place, Liberty Prairie Foundation, Prairie Crossing Charter School, Sierra Club: Woods & Wetlands Group, and Wild Ones: Lake to Prairie Chapter.

‘Chicago Tonight’ Spotlights Waukegan Coal Plant Controversy

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Three members of the Clean Power Lake County Campaign were featured prominently in a March 23, 2016, report by “Chicago Tonight,” Chicago’s premier news and public affairs magazine.

Waukegan Fourth Ward Alderman David Villalobos, Sister Kathleen Long of Most Blessed Trinity Catholic Parish (Waukegan), and Christine Nannicelli of the Sierra Club highlighted several reasons why we are pushing for a transition plan that spells out a retirement date for the coal-fired power plant in Waukegan and also emphasizes renewable clean energy sources as part of the report, “Activists Call for Closure of Waukegan Coal-Fired Power Plant.”

The “Chicago Tonight” video and transcript are available online.

Area residents were quick to sound off—via the Lake County News-Sun—about on-camera remarks by Mayor Wayne Motley of Waukegan and Julie Contreras, chair of the Lake County Latino activist group LULAC:

Glad to see folks standing up for our lakefront and wanting to see a future without pollution. It’s been one of Waukegan’s greatest challenges to attract more visitors and new economic growth. There are so many opportunities here to chart a new path for Waukegan but we’re going to need courageous leadership that isn’t tied to out-of-state corporations. It’s encouraging to see Alderman (David) Villalobos have the independence, courage, and vision to speak out.

It was great to see more media coverage on the coal plant issue here in Waukegan. I applaud the persistent efforts of organizations and local leaders to push our city toward a cleaner and healthier future for our lakefront. However, I don’t see how Mayor Motley’s responses and perspective on the coal plant align with the plans of revitalizing the lakefront that will attract more visitors, businesses, and recreational activities. Waukegan wants to brand itself as a city moving forward and we need to address the pollution from the plant on the lakefront. Thank you.

I was happy to see that “Chicago Tonight” took an interest in Waukegan this week with its story, “Activists Call for Closure of Waukegan Coal-Fired Power Plant.” While a range of positions were expressed, I think we all know that coal pollution is dangerous. Waukegan has paid a big price for all the pollution it has endured for decades from corporations who make their profits and leave their contamination behind. It is important to plan a transition from the coal plant to clean energy precisely so people’s jobs and the city’s tax base not suddenly be lost when this aging coal plant—like so many in the country—ends up closing down. Hopefully one day elected officials will deny the corporate campaign contributions and do what’s right for our community. Waukegan deserves better.

I saw a TV program about the NRG coal-fired power plant in Waukegan. If the mayor is worried about the coal plant leaving the community, and the impacts to the tax base and jobs, then the city should begin planning for it now. I keep reading about coal plants closing and coal mining companies going into bankruptcy. That plant is old and will not keep running for much longer. Mayor Wayne Motley’s statements are short-sighted. He should see the great opportunity he has in front of him to demonstrate effective leadership to chart a responsible transition plan for the plant. Everyone