Springfield Delays Decision On Partial Coal Plant Closure; Public Forum Wednesday

Jan 29, 2020

Springfield may have to wait for a decision on the fate of its coal generators. The city council decided Tuesday to delay a final vote by two weeks.

Instead of debating whether and when to retire three of its four generators, some city officials argued they don’t have enough information to make such an important decision.

At issue is a resolution to retire three of the four coal-fired units — Dallman 31 and 32 by the end of the year, and Dallman 33 by February 2022. Aldermen voted to hold the resolution in committee, meaning the earliest they’d take a final vote is likely February 18. However, with enough support for closure, it’s still possible for the council to make a decision next week.

After Tuesday’s night’s meeting, Chief Utility Engineer Doug Brown said City Water, Light and Power could deal with the delay.

“It just puts more pressure on us, on our staff, to get with engineering firms, to get proposals in, review them in a timely manner,” Brown said.

Brown told council members in December the utility would like an answer on the generator retirements by this month in order to plan for needed upgrades in the event the city wanted to keep any running.

If the three older units are retired, the city would mostly rely on the newest generator, Dallman 4, which was built in 2009 and already complies with current environmental standards.

According to a CWLP analysis, Unit 4 can meet the average demand of customers. When demand rises — in the hottest days of summer, for example — the utility would need to run its smaller gas-fired turbines or buy electricity from the wholesale market.

Enough Information

Ward 9 Ald. Jim Donelan began discussion of the resolution saying he didn’t feel like he had answers to questions he was getting from constituents.

“We’ve got to have that information in front of us in order to know the impact not only in this room but to the ratepayers, which is probably most important, before we make a decision,” he said.

Most of the aldermen agreed they needed more information. For example, Ward 10 Ald. Ralph Hanauer said they need to know what will happen to utility rates, how the city will get backup power once the units shut down, and staffing plans.

“Some of [the questions] have been answered in the last presentation, some of them need clarity,” Brown responded.

Brown said a rate study would need to be done eventually, and that more information about the plant closures was needed before the city could seek a request for proposals to meet electricity needs. But he said the utility is feeling the pressure from pending deadlines for compliance with federal environmental regulations.

Retiring the three units would save the city $69 million over five years to make needed environmental upgrades, according to the utility.

Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin pointed out that ScottMaddon, Inc., a consulting firm the mayor hired to assist with developing a decommissioning plan, had presented some of the statistics in December. The firm estimated 65 employees would be affected, and retiring the units would cost around $2.7 million.

“We’ve been talking about this for three years,” said Ward 6 Ald. Kristin DiCenso. “The sooner we have a definite path forward, the better, because leaving people in limbo is not okay in any fashion.”

Still, Ward 1 Ald. Chuck Redpath said he hopes there’s a chance to keep Dallman 33 running.

“I know I’m researching it with people in the industry to try to figure out how to keep 33,” he said. “If we can’t keep it, if it’s not feasible, if it’s not economical, we can’t do it. But we’ve got to try. We’ve got to try because there’s a lot at stake.”

During the public comment period, Sierra Club managing organizer Elizabeth Scrafford echoed McMenamin’s comments.

“Most of the questions you asked tonight have been asked and answered many times. They are on presentations, they are on CWLP’s website, it is not hard to find,” she said.

A report by the firm The Energy Authority, Inc., released last spring found that it’s cheaper to buy electricity off the open market than it is to run the older generators. The TEA study recommended to meet Springfield's electricity needs, the utility should keep its newest coal unit, and shift to renewable energy. It should look to invest in solar or sign long-term power purchasing agreements. It should also invest more in programs to encourage energy efficiency.

“Coal will be here always, it’s the right balance,” said Mayor Jim Langfelder.

The debate continues at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at a public forum in the City Council Chambers.

Editor's Note: CWLP estimated retiring the units would cost around $2.7 million. A previous version incorrectly stated it was $1.7 million. A resolution would retire Dallman 33 by February 2022. A previous version incorrectly stated 2023.