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Midwest Generations Possible Chapter 11

Midwest Generation was established in 1999 as a holding company for coal-fired power plants in Illinois. By this summer the company had purchased 6 such plants from from ComEd including: 

  • Will County power station, Romeoville
  • Fisk and Crawford stations in Chicago
  • Waukegan power station, Waukegan
  • The Joliet power station in Joliet, and 
  • The Poweron power station in Pekin

This company started out with high hopes and innovative ideas for the development of what has come to be known derisively as clean coal: high grade, low-emission power creation that would be coupled with better returns for the battered coal industry. But like every business emerging in the shadow of big-coal, Midwest Generation lost momentum as pro-coal legislation stalled. Now it looks like the economy has dealt it a death blow.

Of course the whole domestic coal industry is struggling so Midwest Generation is no exception. It might even be better off than most of its competitors; just not enough to escape the ravages of the past 6 years. The company already lost 2 plants in August du eto inefficiency and excessive emissions of CO2, and the next shoe to drop could be a Chapter 11 reorganization.

Nationwide coal plants are expected to close at an escalating rate over the next 5 years that will eventually be quadruple what it is today. Ironically, one major trend behind the predicted wave of closures is the falling price of natural gas due to the even more controversial practice of fracking. That technique involves pumping a puree of expandable materials and water deep underground to create fissures and release gas deposits. Add the fact that consuming natural gas is easier and cleaner, and that gas burns cleaner, and the future begins to look bleak for coal power plants. 

Midwest Generation executives floated the idea of a Chapter 11 reorganization on October 30th during a conference call with analysts. In that same call the 2nd quarterly earnings estimate for Edison International – Midwest Generation’s parent – were reduced by 46% or $130 Million more than last year’s results. Nonetheless, it appears Edison will try and keep the Powerton and Joliet plants running over the long-haul; although it is likely default on its lease if budgets cuts are not approved by the Midwest Generation Board. 

As of today Midwest Generations and its parent, Edison International, are looking for ways to reorganize their debt and nothing is off the table; including the closure of inefficient plants no matter where they are, reducing operational costs, cutting the workforce by the end of 2012, and just plain maintenance of an efficient system.

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