Edwards Coal-Fired Plant Settlement

On November 13, 2019, Judge Joe Billy McDade approved a settlement (Consent Decree) in a case brought by NRDC, Sierra Club, and Respiratory Health Association against the owner of the E.D. Edwards coal-fired power plant, located in Bartonville, Illinois, near Peoria. The settlement requires Edwards’s owner to close the plant by the end of 2022 and to provide $8.6 million in funding for projects to benefit the greater Peoria area. This project funding is divided into two categories:

  1. $6.88 million for public health or environmental projects that benefit the greater Peoria area, as defined in Appendix A to the Consent Decree.
  2. $1.72 million in funding for job training and/or retraining programs at Peoria-area schools and organizations. The training will encompass a range of industries and may be made accessible to Edwards employees and others.

The plaintiffs have decided to allocate the funding to the following programs and grantees. They are grateful to their community partners—the Central Illinois Healthy Community Alliance, Illinois People’s Action, and the Peoria NAACP—for advising them on the funding decisions.

Electric Bus, Energy Efficiency, Solar, and Lung Health Grants

Plaintiffs are allocating the $6.88 million in funds for Peoria-area beneficial projects as follows:

Electric bus grants

$1,230,000 to the Greater Peoria Mass Transit District/City Link for the purchase of a 35-foot electric transit bus, battery lease, and charging equipment. The new electric transit bus is scheduled to start service in the fall of 2021. It will replace a polluting diesel bus that has been in service for more than 14 years and will serve neighborhoods on Peoria’s South Side.

Up to $882,000 to the Hollis and Pekin school districts, to fund the purchase of one electric school bus and associated battery and charging equipment for each district, and to provide an allowance for any infrastructure upgrades necessary to install the charging equipment. The electric school buses went into service in March 2021 and are part of a broader effort by Illinois school districts to invest in cleaner transportation and power. The Hollis district is a single-bus K-8 district that includes the Edwards plant; its new electric bus will allow it to stop leasing a diesel bus and help offset the loss of property taxes from the plant closure. The City of Pekin district is across the Illinois River from the plant. Its new electric bus will replace its oldest diesel school bus. It is a bidirectional vehicle that can feed power back into the grid at times of peak demand and serve as a mobile emergency power source.

Energy efficiency grants

$845,653 to Elevate Energy, a Chicago-based not-for-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that the benefits of clean and efficient energy reach those who need them most. It will fund energy efficiency retrofits and prerequisite home improvements in at least 40 lower-income homes in the areas most affected by pollution from the Edwards plant (including Bartonville, Pekin, and the South Side of Peoria). Elevate’s work will include identifying and integrating local construction contracting businesses owned by people of color and/or women.

$650,000 to METEC, a Peoria-based not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting home ownership, employment, and financial well-being. It will fund energy efficiency upgrades and prerequisite improvements in approximately 35 lower-income homes, with a focus on Pekin and on Peoria’s South Side.

$163,515 to the Peoria Housing Authority, to fund weather-stripping, window caulking, and installation of new storm doors at its Harrison Homes property in southwest Peoria. This work was completed in the fall of 2020 and aims to reduce the property’s energy consumption and make it more comfortable for residents, who are predominantly African-American and whose household incomes average less than $700 per month.

Solar grants

$276,480 to Artists ReEnvisioning Tomorrow, Inc. (ART Inc.), the not-for-profit owner and operator of Peoria’s Romain Arts & Culture Community Center, to fund the purchase and installation of solar panels on the center’s roof. ART Inc.’s mission is to enhance community quality of life through arts education and cultural programs for youth and adults. The center’s new solar array, completed in 2020, will supply most of its power and allow ART Inc. to redirect the energy savings to funding community programs.

$96,550 to the City of Peoria, to fund the purchase and installation of solar panels on the future Fire Station Number 4 on Peoria’s South Side. The city estimates that the panels will offset 100% of the station’s energy use, allowing it to operate as a “net zero” building. Because fire station designs are relatively standardized, the solar array on Station Number 4 may serve as a model for future city fire station building and retrofit projects.

$1,148,772 to Peoria Public Schools (PPS), to fund the purchase and installation of solar panels on the roof of the Woodruff Career and Technical Center and associated roof repairs, utility connections, and public outreach. The panels, scheduled for installation in the fall of 2021, will help reduce PPS’s utility costs and serve as an instructional tool for the Renewable Energy Pathway job training program the center will begin offering in the 2021–22 academic year (see “Job Training Grants,” below).

Lung health

$1,587,010 to the Peoria City/County Health Department, to fund educational programs and medical interventions to improve lung health in partnership with other not-for-profit health care–focused organizations and medical providers serving the greater Peoria area. These funds will be used to support asthma education programs and emergency asthma medications in schools, as well as materials designed to reduce asthma attacks at home; early detection programs for lung cancer that increase survivability; and purchase of lung health diagnostic equipment for area clinics.

Job Training Grants

Plaintiffs are allocating the $1.72 million in funds for Peoria-area job training and/or retraining programs as follows:

$500,000 to Heaven’s View Community Development Corporation (HVCDC), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to combating the problems of poverty, for a solar jobs training program targeting the communities of Pekin, Bartonville, parts of Peoria, Creve Coeur, and parts of East Peoria. The funds will allow HVCDC to offer eight weeks of paid training and associated support services (including employment coaching, counseling, child care, transportation support, and health clinic services) to approximately 450 people. HVCDC’s goal is to enable its trainees to obtain living- and prevailing-wage jobs in the solar industry.

$204,060 to Illinois Central College (ICC), to allow it to add 100 students to its Certified Nurses Aide program. ICC’s goal is to give these students a credential that will qualify them for immediate employment at Peoria-area hospitals and clinics and serve as a foundation for credentials that require more training and command higher pay (such as licensed practical nurse and registered nurse). ICC plans to prioritize displaced Edwards workers and family members and residents of communities most affected by the plant’s pollution (such as those on Peoria’s South Side) in its recruitment.

$144,200 to Jubilee Ministries, a Peoria-based not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping people get, keep, and improve their jobs, to fund the expansion of its Jubilee Jobs program, which connects people to jobs and job training and helps them stay employed. Jubilee Jobs focuses on serving low-income people, approximately half of whom are felons and ex-offenders. The ministries’ goal is to help undo the damage caused by decades of racial and economic injustice by supporting people in their efforts to move into living-wage work.

$288,000 to the City of Peoria’s PeoriaCorps green-infrastructure training and workforce development program, to increase trainees’ hourly stipends from $6.25 to at least $10. PeoriaCorps programs are designed for cohorts of up to 10 people, run for six months, and focus on serving people in Peoria’s economically disadvantaged urban core. PeoriaCorps trainees do 900 hours of service work with the city’s Public Works Department; receive personalized professional development and personal coaching; and complete classroom training, including the National Green Infrastructure Certification Program curriculum, which culminates in a certification exam.

$258,640 to Peoria Public Schools, to allow PPS to develop a new Renewable Energy Pathway job training program and offer that program for three academic years beginning in the fall of 2021. The program will incorporate training on the assembly, installation, and monitoring of new solar panels to be installed on the roof of PPS’s Woodruff Career and Technical Center (see “Solar Grants,” above). PPS’s goal is to prepare its students to enter sustainable, living-wage jobs that will strengthen Peoria’s workforce.

$25,000 to Soulside Healing Arts, a not-for-profit organization whose Community Yoga Program partners with Peoria-area schools and service agencies to provide pay-as-you-wish classes by trauma-certified instructors. The funds will be used to recruit, train, and certify at least two new instructors from the communities most affected by pollution from the Edwards plant or by socioeconomic and racial injustice (such as the communities of Bartonville, Pekin, and Peoria’s South Side).

$300,100 to the Tri-County Urban League, to fund the participation of approximately 40 people in a Workforce Empowerment Program, with a special emphasis on residents of Peoria’s South Side and displaced Edwards workers. The program provides an array of integrated services including occupational training; educational interventions; personal career coaching; legal services; and support services including mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, and assistance with transportation and child care. It focuses on moving people into jobs in the advanced manufacturing, health-care, logistics, and hospitality sectors.