Activists rejoice as coal-fired plants shut down

But the Fisk and Crawford closings leave dozens of Midwest Generation workers without a job.

August 31, 2012

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Neighborhood and environmental activists are celebrating as Chicago’s last two coal-fired electricity plants enter a three-month decommissioning phase. But the closings are leaving dozens of Midwest Generation workers without a job.
 
The company, a subsidiary of California-based Edison International, says its Crawford station in the city’s Little Village neighborhood burned its last lump of coal more than a week ago after operating since 1924. The Fisk station, constructed in 1903 in nearby Pilsen, shut down Thursday night.
 
Activists campaigned for more than a decade to close the plants or curb their harmful emissions, which included asthma-triggering soot and carbon dioxide, a contributor to global warming.
 
Standing near Crawford on Friday afternoon, Rafael Hurtado of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization almost had to pinch himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.
 
“The smokestack and the chimney are not running,” Hurtado observed. “The parking lot is empty other than the security guards. This is a victory not only for our organization but Little Village and Pilsen and the city of Chicago.”
 
Local 15 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represented about 135 workers at the plants, says some are accepting retirement packages or transferring to another Midwest Generation site, where they will bump employees with less seniority. The union represents about 700 workers at the company’s six Illinois generators.
 
“There just aren’t enough jobs,” said Doug Bedinger, a Local 15 business representative for the workers. “There will be hardship.”
 
Midwest Generation President Douglas McFarlan said roughly 100 union members are leaving voluntarily while another 50 get laid off.
 
McFarlan, meanwhile, said the company is trying to sell the Chicago sites. The timing of environmental remediation “depends on the interests” of the buyers, he said.
 
“It’s part of the sales process,” McFarlan said, adding that a school might have different cleanup needs than a warehouse.
 
The closings resulted partly from federal clean-air rules requiring Midwest Generation to retrofit its plants. McFarlan said a bigger factor was the rise of natural gas production, which has put downward pressure on energy prices. “We just can’t run profitably,” he said.