Ameren can't transfer pollution waiver to Dynegy

CHICAGO – Ameren Corp. cannot transfer a waiver from pollution controls at five coal-fired power plants when it sells the plants to Dynegy Inc., the Illinois Pollution Control Board said Thursday.

Houston-based Dynegy announced in March that it would acquire Ameren's Illinois coal plants, and wanted to assume a pollution-control waiver that gave Ameren a five-year delay in installing soot-control equipment required by state rules.

Ameren was granted the waiver last year after claiming a financial hardship, and told the board in its recent filing that transferring that right to Dynegy was "a mandatory condition to closing the transaction."

The Pollution Control Board voted 4-0 to deny the request from Ameren and Dynegy Inc., saying Dynegy must make the case on its own merit if it wants a variance. Ameren and Dynegy released similar statements Thursday saying they are "committed to completing the transaction" and will file for a new variance.

Howard Learner, president and executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, called the decision "a good step in the right direction for protecting clean air and health in Illinois."

ELPC and other environmental groups argued that Dynegy was a willing buyer, so it should not be able to substitute its name for Ameren's on the variance.

"Illinois' clean water and clean air shouldn't be sacrificed so Dynegy can reduce operating costs," Learner said. "The public deserves better protections than that."

St. Louis-based Ameren had said it might have to close some of its plants and cut hundreds of jobs if it didn't get the variance, which gave the company until 2020 to install pollution upgrades.

The company initially had agreed to do it by 2015. Ameren said it couldn't afford the costly equipment because of a drop in electricity prices driven in part by competition from natural gas plants, as well as difficulty borrowing money due to weakened credit ratings.

Ameren said last fall that it already had invested $1 billion in pollution controls to meet state rules.