East Alton coal plant shutting down; workers in the dark about future

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EAST ALTON, IL (KTVI) - Workers at a coal-fired power plant in East Alton, Illinois are looking for answers about their future after word came down of plans to close the facility.

Approximately 90 employees at Dynegy's coal-fired plant are expected to lose their jobs within a year. More than 80 percent of them belong to the IBEW Local 51 union. Union workers met Thursday evening for the first time since the news broke late Wednesday.

Not only will the loss of a good paying job hurt local families, it will also take its toll on the Village of East Alton, according to. According to East Alton Mayor Joe Silkwood, the town of 6,300 depends on the coal plant for 23 percent of its annual property tax revenue.

Mounds of coal have marked the landscape at the power plant for more than 60 years. But federal rules and public pressure to clean up pollutants from coal burning power plants shortened the future of Dynegy’s Wood River Power Station.

“What concerns me about this coal plant is the impact it has on the environment in Madison County as well as the impacts it has on our citizens,” said Alexandra Cope, chairperson of the Metro East Green Alliance.

The facility, which sits on the banks of the Mississippi River, meets all current environmental standards, according to the Illinois EPA. However, Dynegy ownership said it is no longer cost-effective to keep the small, aging power plant operating.

Sierra Club staff member Elizabeth Scrafford said the closure of the Wood River coal plant is both an environmental victory and a challenge to the employees and community.

“We want to see a transition plan happen and we want to see a long-term conversation. There are things that could be done on-site as far as jobs after clean-up,” Scrafford said. “Dynegy said that they were going to minimize the impact on workers; we are looking to Dynegy to really be a leader as this transition happens."

The power plant is located southeast of Lock and Dam 26 on the Mississippi River.