City remains hopeful about coal plant after energy bill stalls

Rochelle Mayor John Bearrows speaks at a Monday press conference about the Prairie State Energy Campus and the impact its possible closure would have on the city.

Fiegenschuh: ‘It is our understanding that negotiations will continue’

ROCHELLE — A state clean energy bill that stands to impact the City of Rochelle stalled this week. 

On Monday, the city held a press conference to plead for the public to reach out to state lawmakers and the governor’s office in support of keeping the Prairie State Energy Campus in Marissa, Illinois open past 2035. 

On Monday it seemed a state energy bill could close the plant earlier-than-planned in 14 years. The city has $150 million in debt left with Prairie State until 2042. Rochelle bought into the plant in 2007. The plant provides a large portion of Rochelle Municipal Utilities’ power. 

Mayor John Bearrows said Monday that the negative economic impact the plant’s early closure would have on Rochelle is “huge,” “financially-devastating” and RMU would “probably no longer exist as we know it today.” 

Some lawmakers have fought since Monday to remove Prairie State from the bill and push its planned closure back. 

“It is our understanding that negotiations will continue, and we expect the legislature to return later this summer,” Rochelle City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh said. “The voice of the community has been heard. We remain hopeful and will continue to advocate for the well-being of our community residents.”

Fiegenschuh said the community will also continue to advocate that Prairie State be allowed to remain open past 2035, until 2045 at a minimum until the city’s bonds with the plant are paid off. The city purchases 30 megawatts of power from Prairie State every day, which accounts for close to 65 percent of its daily load.    

“Many” Rochelle residents filed witness slips Tuesday at the subject matter hearing in Springfield opposing the bill as written, Fiegenschuh said. He called residents’ response to the press conference the city held “generally positive.”

The clean energy bill aims to shift the state’s power production towards renewables such as wind and solar energy. Six percent of Rochelle’s energy comes from renewables, which is higher than the state average and the averages of ComEd and Ameren, Fiegenschuh said. 

“Many in the community, including our mayor, city council and staff want to see the city continue to expand its carbon neutral footprint,” Fiegenschuh said. “However, our residents and elected officials also understand that moving in that direction needs to be done in a way that does not adversely affect our ratepayers, especially our low-income residents and our business owners. 

“Prairie State is a vital piece of our overall energy mix and as we progress into the future the city will continue to expand its carbon-free footprint.”