Opinion: Before closing the Waukegan coal plant, lawmakers should consider California’s failures
Lake County Republican Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor has recently partnered with the Sierra Club in its Beyond Coal campaign, which advocates for the closure of the Waukegan Generating Station, a large coal-fueled power plant located on the shores of Lake Michigan that provides jobs for 100 people.
The stated goal of their effort is to combat climate change by eliminating carbon-dioxide emissions from coal – no matter the consequences to Lake County families. Despite their proponents' claims to the contrary, these policies would be economically destructive and provide no benefits to the environment.
One of the primary assertions made by opponents of coal is that shutting down plants such as Waukegan would significantly improve air quality. In this case, nothing could be further from the truth. Air quality would not be improved by closing the Waukegan plant, because NRG, the company that purchased the plant in 2014, has already spent $100 million in pollution-control technology. The plant meets all applicable federal and state air quality laws, some of which are already more stringent than what is necessary to protect health and the environment.
Additionally, closing the Waukegan plant would provide zero measureable benefits to the climate, because carbon dioxide is a benign gas required for life on Earth. It’s true that CO2 does contribute to some global warming, but satellites and weather balloon data show Earth has warmed only 0.28 degrees Celsius since 1979, which is just one-tenth of the warming predicted to occur by 2025 using computer-generated climate models. Numerous studies have also shown the additional CO2 has provided many positive benefits.
For instance, recent studies by national agencies from Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have found Earth is becoming greener because of the additional carbon dioxide present in the environment. Even some desert regions are becoming greener! Similarly, plant growth has increased, causing global food production to set numerous new records over the past decade. And while countless doomsday scenarios advanced by environmental alarmists have failed to materialize, people have ... increasingly longer and better lives.
These success stories are only possible because of power plants such as Waukegan, which delivers clean, low-cost electric power that families depend on.
By joining with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, Lawlor has effectively partnered with the Bloomberg Foundation, which has a radical anti-coal agenda. If Lawlor pursues this misguided campaign that is designed to eventually eliminate coal-based electric generation at home and abroad, it will harm hundreds of millions of people (at least) by making electricity scarce and expensive.
Coal-based electric generation in Illinois constitutes more than 35 percent of the state’s electric supply, a figure that is above the national average. The good people of Lake County need only look at the negative results of climate-change policies in California to gain a better understanding of what happens when politicians seek to “decarbonize” at any expense.
Due to tragically misguided climate and electric policies in California, electricity rates have soared to 18 cents per kWh – a figure that is more than 50 percent higher than the average Illinois rate of 12 cents per kWh. California’s high electric rates have devastated many industries and people that don’t live on the coast, where electricity use is minimal because of the fabulous coastal climate. This should serve as a warning to Illinois residents, who also don’t have the luxury of warm California coastal weather.
High electricity rates have also caused tech companies such as Intel to shut down California-based manufacturing facilities. Agriculture in the Central Valley has also suffered because of ruinous electricity rates. These should be important considerations for the people of Illinois, many of whom still rely on these industries. For instance, 37,000 people employed in Lake County work in manufacturing, constituting 11.5 percent of the workforce, and agriculture is a key industry in numerous communities throughout Illinois.
Illinoisans should learn from the mistakes made in California and reject the policies that have forced a record number of Californians to live in poverty.
Rather than adopt detrimental, misguided policies, Illinois lawmakers should embrace modernity and reject turning Illinois into the California of the Heartland, which is the logical conclusion of the efforts by the Sierra Club and Bloomberg Foundation to strip fossil fuels from the U.S. economy.
Senior Fellow Energy and Climate,
The Heartland Institute
The Heartland Institute