Coal and Condos

Re: “Chicago Without Coal: What would it take for the Fisk, Crawford, and State Line coal-fired power plants to close up shop? And what would happen if they did?” by Kari Lydersen, October 14

I would be curious to see the environmental analysis comparing the inefficiency of these coal plants to the energy cost of installing a $178 M infrastructure upgrade.

Also, plants of these type will never be constructed again, and in that sense it is a beautiful wonder of the industrial age. Does anyone else besides find tall brick factories much more attractive than sprawling, plain modernist facilities? Not to say that justifies pollution, but perhaps we need to consider the artistic and historical elements before diving head-first into an ill-conceived demolition and urban renewal.

I’d rather live by an old coal plant than a condo development. —manuki

@Manuki—I agree it is interesting to look at, but ever since I moved to Pilsen I have noticed my asthma is worse (and that was before I knew of the coal plant). You might feel differently if your health was directly affected and you were wiping soot off of your window sills every week. —elegantmint

@elegantmint—Did you ever consider that the asthma could be caused by other (documented) sources such as dust from your new home—which is probably within an older building or from traffic in this congested area (including the constantly jammed Dan Ryan and Stevenson)? It’s so easy to blame the power plants for everyone’s ills, but also not intellectually honest.

By the way, the USA is the “Saudi Arabia” of coal—so we should be utilizing this resource to make electricity for the sake of national security. Remember, nobody wanted all of those ugly factories that made things to be located near them either. Now they have their wish: they’re all in China. And isn’t our economy great? —stogieguy7

Cultural historian Jeff Biggers wrote an amazing book, Reckoning at Eagle Creek, describing the impact of coal on the Midwest. It was covered in a great story earlier this year in the Reader (also by Kari Lydersen). Among other things, he discredits the Big Coal sponsored arguments that the U.S. is the Saudi Arabia of coal and that there is such a thing as Clean Coal. —Ze Roberto

I’ve briefly worked at these plants doing retrofits and it’s another world on the inside. Years and years of said retrofits and upgrades lend them this labyrinthine feel like you’ve crawled into the belly of the industrial beast. These facilities transport you—I mean it’s this crazy dichotomy of beautiful art deco ornamentation and railing and tilework and brick construction that’s survived in this atmosphere of coal dust, turbines, and very loud powerful machinery. The view from the top of State Line is unbeatable too.

I do worry about the health effects on surrounding communities and think they are quite founded, but it’s foolish to expect these plants to convert to natural gas because the costs would be so high. My guess is that they will be shut down sooner rather than later.

I just hope these facilities get turned into museums, theater, music space, etc that the public can use instead of being torn down or turned into private use. Hell, we can always use another casino on the lake . . . just kiddin.

Henderson’s concluding comment is right on—these coal plants are legacies of an era and speak to the hustle-and-bustle of old-school Chicagoland, but we need to move on and incorporate the latest innovations in engineering and technology. That’s what vibrant forward-thinking societies do and it will ultimately pay off economically for this region in terms of job growth and general health and wealth. Nearly all of the major U.S. cities are one foot in the grave in terms of decaying infrastructure, from brittle leaking sewer pipes to bridges drastically in need of repair to wheezing coal plants, etc . . . It’s really TIME TO MOVE ON. —patent-pending

Like the article stated, a Harvard School of Health Study attributed 40 deaths, 550 emergency room visits and 2,800 asthma attacks per year to Chicago’s old, dirty coal plants.

Just because we have a lot of coal does not mean that we need to mine it all and burn it for electricity. Burning coal to produce electricity releases neurotoxins into our air and water and CO2 that is produced by burning coal is the leading cause of climate change. We literally CAN’T burn all the coal we have. How about a clean energy economy? We can manufacture wind turbines and solar panels and put people back to work while kicking our dependency on foreign oil and climate altering fossil fuels. The U.S. should stop giving govm’t subsidies to coal and oil companies and instead subsidize solar and wind. That sounds like a common sense plan to me. —applejack

Of course the coal plants are horrible and need to go. I worry, however, about what will happen to the neighborhood’s economic makeup once they’re gone. The truth is that a lot of folks (particularly of the rich white variety) like the neighborhood’s “character” (read: they like its Mexican/Chicano heritage, con tal de que they don’t have to actually interact with their Mexican/Chicano neighbors), but don’t want to be exposed to the negative health effects of the coal plants. Once the plants are out, the floodgates for gentrification will be opened. —Micah

So we should keep exposing people to toxins in order to prevent gentrification???

Most of the people that work at these plants do not live in the neighborhood (I think the Reader article mentioned this). Also, if the ordinance passed, Midwest Generation would have to upgrade the plants and hire more people to do this.

All the coal plants mentioned in the article happen to be in neighborhoods that have a high percentage of Hispanic residents. LVEJO are PERRO are two small neighborhood groups that have been fighting these coal plants that are in their backyards for ten years or more. These neighborhood groups are NOT comprised of newbies interested in making a buck on real estate or hipsters that want to live in a “cool” neighborhood. Despite all the money they give to school groups, Midwest Generation is a bad neighbor. —applejack