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Closure of Chicago's Crawford, Fisk electric plants ends coal era

By Julie Wernau
Tribune staff reporter

The Fisk power plant, in service since 1903, burned its final batch of coal Thursday while its sister plant Crawford shut down by Wednesday, ending Chicago's run as the only major U.S. city with two coal plants operating in its borders.

Their closings, confirmed by owner Midwest Generation, eliminate Chicago's two biggest industrial sources of carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to global warming. At their peak the plants supplied power to roughly 1 million homes.

The Chicago Tribune's brief two paragraph death announcement for the two coal dinosaurs doesn't do justice to the long grassroots movement by coalition of of groups across Chicago that came together to form the Chicago Clean Power Coalition. Together over the last 10 years, they created a political force to be reckoned with, pushing for change that finally brought the last coal burning generating plants inside a major city to an end. The poor economics for operators of coal plants that is driving the shift away from coal across the country, made this a good time to make the shift away from coal for Chicago, so the plants planned closure was moved up.

Coalition building was the key to Chicago Clean Power Coalition's success. The Coalition worked hard at bringing a large assortment of diverse grassroots groups together to accomplish a goal that benefited everyone.

Chicago's dirty coal plants are history, but the invaluable lessons in coalition building will be useful tools in fighting for a range of progressive goals going forward. Grassroots groups all over the country can use Chicago Clean Power Coalition model for building real political muscle to achieve their goals.

These groups all came together to form the Chicago Clean Power Coalition.

Coalition Partners

8th Day Center for Justice
49th Ward Green Corps
Action Now
Aerotecture International Inc.
American Renewable Energy & Power, LLC
American Medical Student Association-UIC
Blacks in Green
Bridgeport Alliance
Buddhist Peace Fellowship
CAPOW! Citizens Act to Protect Our Water
Chicago Youth Climate Coalition
Citizen Action / Illinois
Citizens Against Ruining the Environment
Citizens Committee for a Clean Blue Island
Collective Consciousness Movement
Consolidated Printing
David Weiner & Associates
Design Makes Change
Doctors Council SEIU
Eco-Justice Collaborative
Energy Action Coalition
Environment Illinois
Environmental Law & Policy Center
Faith in Place
Gaia Movement USA
Green Guy Solutions
Green Sanctuary Group, Beverly Unitarian Church
Growing Station Community Garden
KenJiva Energy Systems
Illinois Solar Energy Association
Illinois Student Environmental Coalition
Little Village Env. Justice Organization
Loyola University, Student Env. Alliance
Natural Resources Defense Council
Nuclear Energy Information Service
Oikos: The Religion and Environment Initiative
Peace Productions
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Pilsen Alliance
Pilsen Env. Rights & Reform Organization
Progressive Democrats of America
Protestants for the Common Good
Rainforest Action Network Chicago
Ravenswood Community Council
Resource Center
Respiratory Health Assoc. of  Metro. Chgo.
Sierra Club
Southeast Environmental Task Force
Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation
SolAir Works, Inc.
SAIC Student Environmental Activism Group
Students for a Just and Stable Future–UChicago
Team 15 United
Topless America
Union of Concerned Scientists
UIC College of Medicine, Community Action Program
Urban Sustain
Wellington Avenue UCC
Windy City Green Power

Originally posted to Lefty Coaster on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 10:03 AM PDT.

Also republished by EcoJustice, Climate Hawks, and DK GreenRoots.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Good Job Chicago (16+ / 0-)

    We can create the future we want if we do the hard work of organizing to move America in a better direction  

    "We don't need someone who can think. We need someone with enough digits to hold a pen." ~ Grover Norquist

    by Lefty Coaster on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 09:58:25 AM PDT

  •  It's good to have a victory every now and then. (6+ / 0-)

    Thanks Lefty, and thanks to all those who played a part in this.

  •  I thought they couldn't afford the EPA upgrades? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    palantir, Willinois

    Is that just the story they told?

    If Obama didn't get Bin Laden because he didn't pull the trigger; then Bin Laden didn't take down the World Trade Center because he didn't fly the planes.

    by Bush Bites on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 10:17:51 AM PDT

    •  Drop in price of Natural Gas has made upgrades (5+ / 0-)

      to old dinosaur coal plants a nonstarter for utilities with conversion to Natural Gas a much less expensive option.

      But for these two plants the City of Chicago pushed by Chicago Clean Power Coalition demanded their closure and got Midwest Generation to comply.  

      News that Midwest Generation may be facing bankruptcy came out in early August. Closing down these two costly coal burning dinosaurs was moved up as a cost cutting measure by Midwest Generation.    

      "We don't need someone who can think. We need someone with enough digits to hold a pen." ~ Grover Norquist

      by Lefty Coaster on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 10:35:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  power co's don't bother upgrading old plants (4+ / 0-)

      Upgrading a 100+ year old plant is going to be an expensive proposition; expensive enough that a power company would prefer not to do it even if they could afford it.  There's only so much you can do before the money would buy you a brand new plant that's cheaper to operate.  Sometimes the power companies fight to grandfather in old plants.  If they don't have to operate it for long durations, they either use it to meet peak power demand (so it can spend most of its time offline, saving them money whether they upgrade or not, which becomes an option since its emissions still technically go down since it's offline most of the time) or just decommission it completely and build a new gas-fired peaker plant.

      To those who say the New Deal didn't work: WWII was also government spending

      by Visceral on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 11:00:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  do you know what is replacing the coal plant? (4+ / 0-)

    this is great news.

    are they building a gas-fired plant to replace it?

    thanks for the diary.

    An ambulance can only go so fast - Neil Young

    by mightymouse on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 10:18:58 AM PDT

    •  Much cleaner Natural Gas fired plants are (4+ / 0-)

      almost certainly filling much of the demand.

      "We don't need someone who can think. We need someone with enough digits to hold a pen." ~ Grover Norquist

      by Lefty Coaster on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 10:38:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  about natural gas: actually an improvement. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I've tended to be highly skeptical of natural gas: after all it's a fossil fuel, it's methane, and when you combust a molecule of methane you get two molecules of CO2.

        However my skepticism was misplaced, and as it turns out:

        According to the latest climate information from NASA and other sources, atmospheric CO2 levels globally are lower than predicted right now, and the scientists are attributing this to the replacement of coal plants by natural gas plants.

        Probably the lower overall CO2 output from natural gas than from coal, per unit of power generated, is attributable to the higher efficiency of gas as a fuel, compared to coal.  Natural gas also doesn't create particulates that absorb sunlight.

        So at this point it's reasonable to use natural gas as an interim solution along the way to conversion to non-fossil energy sources.  

        "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

        by G2geek on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 06:47:44 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  probably gas-fired (5+ / 0-)

      Most of the coal plants being closed are what are called "peaker plants".  Peaker plants spend most of their time offline and only get called into service when demand for electricity peaks in the summer and/or the afternoon.  They tend to be older plants that the power company would prefer to operate as little as possible anyway because they're inefficient and unprofitable.  They still impose a cost on the power company for the rest of the time though, and that's the main economic incentive behind decommissioning them.

      Gas-fired power plants are the most expensive fossil fueled plants to operate, but apparently they're a good deal for peaker plants, mainly because they start up and shut down quickly, so operators can time their activity more precisely.  This is because they use gas turbines instead of coal or oil-fired steam boilers; they don't need to sit there burning for hours in order to build up steam pressure before they can produce electricity.

      To those who say the New Deal didn't work: WWII was also government spending

      by Visceral on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 10:52:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  thanks (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        John Crapper, G2geek

        I didn't know they used coal for peakers.

        An ambulance can only go so fast - Neil Young

        by mightymouse on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 11:12:54 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  they don't want to use coal for peakers (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          John Crapper, mightymouse, G2geek

          It's the plant, not the fuel that motivates the decision.  These dirty old inefficient plants that lose money (and get the power company grief from the EPA and the voters) get assigned the peaker role so the power company can run them as little as possible.  Even the time it takes them to build up steam pressure still saves the power company money versus running these plants 24 hours a day 365 days a year as base load generators.

          Even if you can afford to build a shiny new gas turbine peaker plant - and getting the financing is not a guarantee - it can still take years to get them designed, permitted, and built.  During that time, you still need the coal plant.

          To those who say the New Deal didn't work: WWII was also government spending

          by Visceral on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 11:28:28 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  It is truly a wonderous day . . . (4+ / 0-)

    . . . for Chicago, the earth, and, in a very selfish way, for me! The coal trains that fed these plants rolled right through my back yard. Multiple times per day.

    Way good on the Chicago Clean Power Coalition!

    -Democracy is when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers.
    - Aristotle

    by rudyblues on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 11:11:20 AM PDT

  •  I lived 6 blocks away from the Fisk plant (4+ / 0-)

    until 4th grade.

    All that coal, it was a mountain to me back then, fascinated me.

    It brings back memories, but I'm not sorry to see it go.

  •  Now if we can have the same kind of (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AoT, G2geek

    success stopping the crazy plan to dig up coal in Wyoming and Montana and shipping it to Asia via the west coast.  This is great news and congrats to the coalition for their success.  

    If we really want to straighten out all this crap we need to really think about shit!

    by John Crapper on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 12:56:28 PM PDT

    •  I wonder if coal could be "poisoned"? (0+ / 0-)

      Not in the sense of being made (more) toxic to humans (than it is right now), but like this:

      Imagine a chemical or combination of chemicals that, when sprayed on coal, causes the coal to become useless in some way: less able to burn and therefore more expensive to use, or perhaps to produce some kind of "gunk" while burning, that gums up a power plant, or perhaps by producing a harmless but enormously foul smell downwind of the plant.  

      For example, sugar "poisons" portland cement by interfering with the reaction that makes it harden.  I'm told that ready mix drivers used to carry 5-pound bags of sugar in the cabs of their trucks in case of breakdown: dumping the sugar into the mixer would save the equipment from being totaled by a batch hardening inside while they waited for assistance.

      Now imagine some eco-activists loading up a crop duster aircraft with that chemical, and flying over an open-pit coal mine, and giving it a good drenching.  

      A few weeks later, the coal from that mine would get shipped somewhere, fed into a power plant, and cause its mischief.  That coal would become useless to anyone, and the mine would shut down as a result.

      Ideas?  Anyone?

      "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

      by G2geek on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 07:03:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  don't forget all that midwest wind power (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bill warnick, Lefty Coaster, G2geek

    is really what's been replacing it.....if it's too costly to fix up smokers, it's by definition cheaper to put in wind and solar, and that's the short term cost models as well...

    This machine kills Fascists.

    by KenBee on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 03:17:27 PM PDT

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