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Mishap damages Prairie State’s electric generating capacity

Published: Thursday, May 29, 2014 10:29 p.m. CST • Updated: Thursday, May 29, 2014 10:31 p.m. CST

A malfunctioning water storage tank at the Prairie State Energy Campus, near Marissa in downstate Illinois, will not affect power availability, the company said this week in a news release. That includes the electric utilities of Batavia and Geneva, which are among 300 communities that invested in the coal-fired power plant.

According to a statement from the power plant, when one of its two 800-megawatt units was taken offline for a scheduled maintenance outage, a water storage tank overflowed. This caused "an unexpectedly high release of steam and water that damaged the siding and associated equipment."

"There was no explosion, no fire and no injuries that occurred," spokeswoman Ashlie Kuehn said.

The plant uses water to make the steam that turns its turbines to make electricity, she said. The release of steam and water damaged the siding and some equipment around the site, she said.

"The power plant has some very key components, and two components that make power are the boiler and turbine generator, and they were not damaged," Kuehn said. "The storage tank needs to be repaired and the siding, and we expect those to be competed by mid to late June when the [second] unit is going to be returned to service."

Once repairs are completed, Unit 2 is expected to be returned to service so it will produce power for most of the summer, according to the company's statement.

Geneva is a member of – and has a contract with – Northern Illinois Municipal Power Agency for an entitlement share of 35 megawatts in Prairie State Generating Company which owns Prairie State Energy Campus, a coal-fired downstate power plant.

Batavia also is a member of the Northern Illinois Municipal Power Agency and is in a long-term contract to purchase electricity from Prairie State. 

Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke said he's not aware of any impact the incident might have on electricity supply or costs to the city.

"There could be, but I'm not aware of any at the moment," Schielke said. "I've seen some pictures online of siding blown off some of the buildings there, but nothing that would a have major impact here."

Geneva officials were unavailable for comment.

The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis in Cleveland, which conducts research and analyses on financial and economic issues related to energy and the environment, called for an "exhaustive investigation."

"There needs to be an exhaustive investigation into the cause of the explosion and into safety procedures at the plant," executive director Sandy Buchanan said in a statement. "That investigation should take place in a transparent manner so that everyone concerned about the plant can learn as much as possible as soon as possible."

Kuehn said officials are still in the process of assessing what caused the tank to overflow and release steam.

"There was no explosion," Kuehn said, countering Buchanan's comments. "There was a release of steam and water."

The cities' investments in Prairie State Energy Campus have come under fire by the Sierra Club and local citizens.

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