State Line coal-powered plant may shut down this week

Owner, Hammond wrestle with massive facility’s next chapter.

March 26, 2012

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(AP/file)
State Line Generating Station in Hammond, Ind.

The State Line Generating Station is a hulking coal-fired power plant that sits just off Lake Michigan, along the Indiana-Illinois border. Even people who don’t know the structure’s name or its purpose may recall its most recognizable feature: the red and white building that towers close to the Chicago Skyway.

It’s produced power — and air pollution — for decades, but this could be its last week operating. State Line’s parent company, Dominion Energy, announced a year ago that it planned to shutter the plant, a decision that will put more than a hundred employees out of work. The plant received its last shipment of coal in December and when the coal runs out, so will its reason for being. Dominion spokesman Dan Genest says that could be any day now.

“We have made arrangements with our employees to keep as many of them who want to stay working at the station working through the end of June,” Genest said. “They will be there making sure the place is safe to shut down and that everything that needs to close the station safely is completed.”

State Line is one of three coal-fired power plants in the Chicago area that are set to close. The other two are Midwest Generation’s Fisk plant in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, which is slated to close by the end of the year; the other is the Crawford plant in Little Village, which will shut down by the end of 2014.

As far as State Line, Genest says, the company has no firm plans for the building or the property.

“We have a team of employees who is investigating that. They are looking at lots of different options:  preserving the building, razing the building, everything in between,” Genest said.

The company says it’s closing State Line because it would cost millions to comply with new federal pollution rules. Those rules include prohibitions against a certain amount of air pollution traveling over into Illinois and potentially harming residents.

Although technically in Indiana, plant visitors must travel into the southeastern corner of Chicago before arriving at the entrance. The station is just a short distance from the U.S. Coast Guard Station at Calumet Park, and it’s close to homes in the Chicago's Southeast Side neighborhood.

Most of the plant’s exterior and some of its interior infrastructure date back to the late 1920s, a distinction that makes it one of the oldest and largest urban electrical stations in the United States. The building is on a list for National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmarks. A one-time owner was Commonwealth Edison.

In July 1998, a massive explosion and fire ripped through two of the plant’s four generators, injuring more than a dozen workers.

The city of Hammond is looking to redevelop the site, which sits just north of the Horseshoe Casino. Some have suggested that the building could somehow be cleared, making way for open green space.