As reported in the Friday 8 Aug 2014 edition of the Joliet Herald-News, NRG Energy company is planning to reducing coal-fired power generation at its Romeoville IL station and convert the coal-fired plant in Joliet over time to natural gas. In the process, the company (which acquired the power stations from California-based Midwest Generation earlier this year) will significantly downsize the workforce at both plants, eventually laying off about 200 workers in the region.
While the loss of local jobs is painful consequence of this action, the environmental impacts of this change will be, on the whole, positive. The long-running Joliet and Romeoville power stations, both situated along industrialized stretches of the Des Plaines River and in the midst of dense human populations in Will County, are two of the biggest point-sources of air pollution in the Chicago region. The planned changes by NRG are expected to produce a significant cut in carbon emissions for the state of Illinois; and the reduced air and particulate pollution from burning coal will benefit approximately 200,000 citizens in the Joliet metro area as tens of thousands more in northern Will County region.
The planned shift to natural gas combustion at the Joliet plant is part of a nationwide trend to utilize natural gas in lieu of coal, which is far dirtier to burn, and is plentiful in the US due to ramped up extraction processes such as hydrofracturing. Nevertheless, fracking is a highly fraught process that poses threats to groundwater sources both in its excessive use of freshwater and its production of high volumes of toxic wastewater; and it is a politically charged point of controversy here in Illinois and in other states, particularly Pennsylvania and Colorado.