Chicago-based J Power USA, a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Electric Power Development Co., Ltd., has begun construction of a 1,200 MW combined-cycle natural-gas fired power plant in Will County, IL, near Chicago, which is the largest residential heating market in the United States and a major natural gas hub.

The Chicago area is part of a section of Illinois that belongs to the PJM Interconnection, while the rest of Illinois is under the coverage of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator  (MISO). Roughly 49,847 MW, or 42% of PJM’s power fuel mix, comes from natural gas, while one-quarter, or 29,145 MW, is coal-fired.

The continued retirement of coal-fired power units in the upper Midcontinent could offer an opening to more gas-fired power units like J-Power’s plant, which is scheduled to start service in the spring of 2022.

Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy in late May said in its annual corporate responsibility report that the company is looking to end coal use in the upper midcontinent by 2030.

In late June, the Illinois Pollution Control Board, in conjunction with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, found that NRG Energy subsidiary Vistra Energy should reduce its coal-fired generation by 2,000 MW to comply with new emissions and air quality mandates in the state. Vistra accepted the limits, according to a June state regulatory filing. Vistra operates in Illinois through its subsidiary Dynegy Inc., which it acquired last year.

Despite the decline of coal-fired power in the region, gas will face increasingly stiff competition from renewable power fuel sources.

At the end of last year, J-Power was one of several independent gas fired power generators that submitted a joint letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, urging the commission to consider the ramifications of state subsidies for nuclear and renewable power on the competitiveness of the wholesale power markets in PJM.