CWLP Workers Worry About Jobs, As City Considers Move Away From Coal

May 21, 2019

Most of the electricity used in Springfield comes from the coal-fired power plant on Lake Springfield. The city's public utility, City Water, Light and Power, is considering a recommendation to shut down a large part of that plant and move to wind or solar.

Some CWLP workers are worried about their jobs in light of the study. Meanwhile, environmentalists who support the move away from fossil fuels have said the city can limit the impact on workers with retraining and other job opportunities.

Mike Carlisle has worked at Dallman Power Plant on Lake Springfield for more than 20 years. And at a public meeting Monday night, he said he and his co-workers want to keep their jobs.

“What’s it take to run one plant instead of four? I know it’s not everyone’s main concern,” he said. “But a lot of money is spent in Springfield because of us.”

Around 180 employees keep the four coal units running. CWLP's workforce is nearly 580 employees, according to its most recent budget presentation. The report by The Energy Authority, Inc., (TEA) recommended closing three of the four units as soon as possible.

The report commissioned by CWLP made the recommendation based on an economic analysis. It showed that the city could save money by shutting the oldest units, built between 1968 and 1978, and buying electricity from the open market. 

“You can buy – be it with power purchase agreement or buying off the market – at a cheaper rate than you can continue to own and operate Dallman 33 as a power plant,” said Kevin Galke, manager of portfolio analytics with TEA.

It recommends to meet Springfield's electricity needs, the utility should keep its newest coal unit, Dallman 4 built in 2009, and shift to renewable energy. It should also invest more in programs to encourage energy efficiency.

The Energy Authority, Inc., report recommends closing the three oldest coal units and investing in solar and wind energy.
Credit Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

The recommendation for 2031 is for CWLP to have 53% of electricity come from renewable energy, 43% from coal and the rest from energy efficiency programs. In the interim, CWLP should sign power purchasing agreements, contracts to buy power from the electricity market for a set price over a period of time.

The city should send out a request for proposals to build solar capacity as soon as possible to take advantage of state and federal tax credits, according to the report.

Meg Evans is a member of the Sierra Club, which pushed for the city to complete the study. She says she thinks they can balance concerns of workers while moving away from coal.

“It’s time for us to move into the future. And CWLP and the city can do that in a way that limits the impact on the workers,” she said.

Chief Utility Engineer Doug Brown said that minimizing the impact on workers is a goal, but jobs in renewable energy may not provide the same level of pay as their current jobs.

“We expect those discussions more with the employees or unions to start in the near future,” he said.

Patti Salmon, who works in the purchasing department at Dallman Power Plant, said she came to Monday night’s meeting with the hope of learning more about the fate of her and her coworkers’ jobs if part of the plant shuts down.

“I think that will be a detriment to the city of Springfield. It’s a city-owned utility and that speaks volume,” she said. “This is going to affect the whole city.”

CWLP officials say they hope to have a plan for the power plant in September. The utility is accepting public comment on the report through June 3rd. You can read the full report and submit comments here.