Power Plant Site Could Be Redeveloped, But Coal-Burning Will End in 2019

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What’s next for coal-fired plant site, workers?

Coal appears to have no future in Hennepin.

Village, county and state leaders, along with displaced-worker assistance representatives, met Friday with the community relations team of Vistra Energy to learn more about company aims and plans in the retiring of the coal-fueled Hennepin power plant.

Caroline Atkins, manager of corporate affairs, and Brad Watson, senior director of community affairs for Vistra, outlined the background to the decision to close the plant and provided information as to the next steps.

Watson anticipates the plant being retired by the end of this calendar year.

Atkins emphasized Vistra’s present focus is the safe operation and decommissioning of the plant and assistance to company employees, considering the necessary transition they face.

She said they have retained the services of the outplacement firm of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. of Chicago to assist employees affected by the shutdown in finding jobs elsewhere. Watson said this will not be a group approach, but individualized guidance for each employee who wishes to take advantage of this service.

Furthermore, he said Vistra itself will assist employees with skill assessment, resume writing and developing interview skills; and for emerging entrepreneurs, the company will offer itself as a resource in the key elements of launching a business such as how to write a business plan. For the employee who decides to retire, they will assist them with that process also.

Additionally, Watson pointed out that Vistra is seeking to coordinate employee services with regional and local agencies, including Illinois WorkNet Center and BEST, Inc.

Regarding the plant itself, Atkins indicated that after the plant has been satisfactorily decommissioned, the company can look at what can be re-purposed, what remains as scrap, and how to best use the land — whether to sell or redevelop the site.

Though the decision to close the plant as a coal-fueled operation is final, Watson indicated that it is Vistra’s preference to redevelop the site as a solar and battery operation — which is doable at the Hennepin location. However, he said that could not happen without favorable action on the part of the state legislature on the Coal to Solar & Energy Storage Act of 2019. Without this, it would not be financially feasible for Vistra to make this investment.

Apart from this prospect, Vistra would consider whether the option existed for someone else to redevelop the sight — possibly selling the site to a liability transfer entity, thereby removing the asset from the company balance sheet.

Watson estimates an 80% reduction in tax liability once the plant has been retired.

According to Tamara Mehalic, Putnam County Supervisor of Assessments, Vistra’s 2018 tax bill for the plant and the immediate grounds upon which it rests totaled nearly $250,000.

Source: News Tribune