Enterprise Zone to Help Keep the Lights On

On August 14, 2003 at 4:11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Ontario, Canada and much of the Northeastern United States were hit by the largest blackout in North American history. Fifty million people lost their electricity, and darkness covered an area from New York to Toronto to Ohio. Lights went out, subways ground to a halt, refrigeration shut down and business stopped cold in its tracks. Days passed slowly before some electricity consumers had power restored. Could that happen here? What would you or your businesses do if this happened? These are really important questions.


The Lee County Enterprise Zone (LCEZ) in northwest Illinois is helping to make sure that an outage like 2003’s will never happen to us in the Midwest. Duke Energy will be adding “dark start” capability to their Lee County facility using Caterpillar diesel generators. In 2001 Duke Energy completed an 8-unit peak generating power plant in Nachusa, Illinois near Dixon in the LCEZ. At the time, Duke saw the Illinois Enterprise Zone Program as a very important incentive tool to enable them to make the $218 million investment in the facility. Today, as part of a new contract to provide “dark start” capability to ComEd, Duke is again investing in the LCEZ.


On or before January 1, 2005 Duke will have installed at its Lee County Generating Station three new 1.4-megawatt diesel generators capable of starting one of the Duke peaker units if the grid should experience a blackout. Like most power plants today, these facilities make electricity but also need electricity from an outside source to enable them to start up. It is a kind of Catch-22, and with this new “dark start” capability the Duke peakers will be stand-alone and can start each other.

The sequence would go something like this:

  • Upon experiencing a blackout situation, Duke would be critical to ComEd’s Restoration Plan and would fire up the CAT diesels, generating enough power to start one of the 80-megawatt peaker units.
  • That unit can then provide power to start the other seven units on site, bringing 640-megawatts of total power back on line.
  • This will begin to restore grid stability and provide power for early restoration, as load would demand.
  • Lee County Station power would feed the grid to handle critical loads, help restart other generating assets and balance the overall load and stability on the Midwest grid itself.

Duke will invest $2.6 million in the stand-alone Caterpillar Diesel Generator Dark Start Project. The weather-protected units will be installed on concrete pads adjacent to Unit # 1. Duke is pleased to use Caterpillar units for this project. CAT itself is a big user of Illinois’ Enterprise Zone programs so it is good to see their product as part of the Lee County project. Equipment is scheduled for delivery on site by October 15 with complete installation and operational capability by January 1, 2005.

Thanks to Jim Cumbow, Superintendent of O&M and Kate Perez of Public Affairs for Duke Energy, the United States Air Force and CBC News for source material contributing to this article and for photos. For more information contact John Thompson, Lee County Enterprise Zone Administrator at 815-284-3361 or dchamber@essex1.com.