Illinois Public Media News
Chicago-based Exelon is a step closer to becoming one of the largest power companies in the country. Shareholders of Exelon and its rival, Constellation Energy, approved a merger Thursday. Exelon is the parent company of Commonwealth Edison.
Analyst Travis Miller with Morningstar predicts the merger will bring new jobs to Illinois and benefit consumers. "You know a larger company offers cost savings that can flow to ComEd and reduce the infrastructure portion of consumer bills," Miller said.
Miller predicts the merger will be finalized by early 2012, but it still needs approval from regulators.
Meantime, Illinois' attorney general is criticizing the deal. Lisa Madigan's office is concerned about what would happen to electricity prices if the merger goes through.
A research project studying a method to keep carbon dioxide emissions out of the atmosphere got down to business this week. After three years of preparations, the Illinois Basin-Decatur project began injecting CO2 from an ethanol plant into the ground more than a mile deep.
Robert Finley with the Illinois Geological Survey at the University of Illinois' Prairie Research Institute said the CO2 injections will continue for another three years, until a million metric tons of the gas is embedded in the massive Mount Simon underground sandstone formation. Finley said Mount Simon offers a big potential at a place for storing CO2 emissions.
"The Mt Simon sandstone at Decatur is 1,650 feet thick, and we'll be storing only in the lower several hundred feet of this unit, and this rock unit is quite laterally extensive," Finley explained. "It covers most of Illinois, southwestern Indiana and western Kentucky."
The Illinois Basin-Decatur project is located on the Archer Daniels Midland campus in Decatur, and uses CO2 from an ADM ethanol plant. The U of I's Illinois State Geological Survey is the lead agency for the project, which is one of seven around the country funded by the U-S Department of Energy, and the second to begin actual sequestration. Finley said the carbon sequestration process has started smoothly --- and the long-term question is whether the gas can be pumped underground continuously without leaking.
He said their findings will be applied to another, larger carbon sequestration project, for which ADM is taking the lead. A training and education center for the larger project is being built at Decatur's Richland Community College.
Eventually, Finley said the experience and knowledge gained from the projects at Decatur can help other carbon sequestration projects --- like the FutureGen project which will bury CO-2 emissions from a coal plant in western Illinois.
An economic official in Danville says the expansion of mobile broadband in the area adds a missing sales tool in parts of rural downstate Illinois.
AT&T's mobile broadband has now expanded to rural cities like Rossville, Tilton, and Georgetown, and St. Joseph. The company is now offering a 3G network, with hopes of expanding it to 4G if AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile USA is approved.
Vermilion Advantage President Vicki Haugen says employers of all sizes, ranging from to ThyssenKrupp, to farmers, to a winery in Oakwood stand to benefit.
"So you look at communities like Hoopeston or Oakwood, off of the interstate (I-74), or some of the other communities that have business development," said Haugen. "They have been at an unfair disadvantage just because of the lack of quality connectivity. This is a key to today and in the future."
Champaign Democratic Senator Mike Frerichs says the legislature's 2010 vote to modernize Illinois' telecommunications act made the expansion possible. AT&T Illinois President Paul La Schiazza says the company has boosted its infrastructure by $3-point-8 billion the last 3 years, due in part to that legislation.
Besides Danville, 11 other cities are impacted, including Hoopeston, Westville, and Tilton in Vermilion County, and St. Joseph and Gifford in Champaign County.
Nineteen Airtran Airways workers will lose their jobs in Bloomington-Normal, and travelers will have to book flights on other airlines when the carrier pulls out of the Central Illinois Regional Airport next June.
According to a release from Airtran, continued high fuel prices and the changing economic climate require the end of air service to Central Illinois. Airtran carried 39-percent of Bloomington Normal passengers last year. Airtran also cut service to three other cities and earlier this year dropped four other cities including the Quad Cities in Illinois.
Bloomington-Normal's largest carrier remains Delta. The loss of service includes three daily non-stop flights. Municipal leaders had expressed concern earlier this year about the possibility of service loss when Airtran did not renew special spring break flights to Fort Myers.
Airport Director Carl Olson had been meeting with Southwest executives for more than six months trying to make the case
Illinois lawmakers have gone home without making another attempt at passing gaming expansion.
The measure failed to come up for a vote in the Senate Thursday afternoon, but Senate President John Cullerton said he prefers to deal with the issue when legislators are expected back Nov. 29.
Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan claims opposition from Gov. Pat Quinn and the head of the Illinois Gaming Board likely hurt the bill's level of support.
The measure would allow racetracks to operate slot machines, and establish five new casinos in areas, including Chicago and Danville.
Catlin House Republican Chad Hays voted in favor of it, saying it would be an economic boon for the state.
"This would be a measure that would bring hundreds of millions of dollars of investment to Danville," Hays said. "To me it's really not about gaming. It's about economic development and jobs."
Champaign Democratic Sen. Mike Frerichs said he believes this bill will have better success late this month.
"I think there are many house members who weren't present when the bill was called for a vote," Frerichs said. "I think if they call it again sometime in the future they can pass something. Sponsors of the bill incorporated many of the suggestions the governor had made, and made many improvements to the bill. It should be a better bill, and easier to pass."
Frerichs said he will vote for the bill should it reach the Senate.
Six months ago, a major gambling expansion passed the House but not with enough votes to survive a potential veto by Governor Quinn. Quinn has a number of concerns, particularly allowing slot machines at horse racing tracks.
Gambling legislation designed to pick up new support so it could survive a veto failed outright in the Illinois House on Wednesday amid opposition from Gov. Pat Quinn and blistering criticism from the state's top gambling regulator.
Looking stunned, the measure's sponsor said he was at a loss to explain the outcome.
"We'll get to the bottom of it and figure out if we can find the necessary votes to pass it by tomorrow," said Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie.
The surprise results added to the uncertainty and unfinished business heading into what was supposed to be the final day of the fall legislative session. Also still left on the table for Thursday were tax breaks for businesses, efforts to keep Quinn from closing prisons and mental institutions, changes to government pensions and restoring salaries for regional school superintendents.
The long "to do" list prompted House leaders to announce an extra day of work, on Nov. 21, primarily to deal with the business incentives.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said opposition from Quinn and the head of the Illinois Gaming Board probably hurt the gambling bill.
"That could dissuade people from voting yes," Madigan said.
The Democratic governor has spent weeks criticizing the gambling legislation, largely because it would allow slot machines at horse-racing tracks. On Wednesday, Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe stepped up his criticism of the bill, saying it would weaken regulatory oversight of gambling in Illinois.
Jaffe said the bill is being pushed through so quickly that many lawmakers, perhaps even its sponsors, don't understand what it would do.
"If they do understand what they're voting on, they should be ashamed of themselves," Jaffe said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "They're undermining regulation, and they're undermining it terribly."
Six months ago, a major gambling expansion passed the House but not with enough votes to survive a potential veto by Quinn. The new version was meant to pick up additional support. It scaled back the size of the increase - for instance, by dropping slot machines at Chicago airports and the state fairgrounds - and addressed complaints about lax regulation.
The measure still allowed five new casinos and permitted racetracks to operate slot machines.
The final vote was 58-53, two votes short of passing and 13 short of a veto-proof majority.
The vote was a victory for Quinn and a defeat for new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is eager to land a Chicago casino and the jobs and taxes it would generate.
"The mayor of the city of Chicago is a big boy. He's an adult," Lang said. "He knows that in the legislative process you win some, you lose some."
"But I know he's not happy about losing, as I am not," Lang added.
Chicago-based Boeing announced new plans on Monday to build space shuttles for people and cargo. Boeing will build reusable capsules that can take up to seven people into space.
Ever since NASA's space shuttle program ended, the U.S. has been relying on Russia to get to the International Space Station. Boeing's new program is expected to provide another way to get there.
Morningstar analyst Neal Dihora said Boeing's space technology accounts for about 13 percent of the company's sales this year.
"With the space shuttle shut down, they were going to see some exits or decreases in revenue and this actually helps them over a longer time frame," Dihora said. "But it's not really that big of a material difference for the entire company as a whole."
Boeing will lease a former shuttle hangar at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The project is expected to create more than 500 jobs by 2015. More than 4,000 space-related jobs have been lost in the Cape Canaveral area.
New Records Show More Restaurant Inspection Failures
(Reported by Dan Petrella of CU-CitizenAccess)
When public health officials conducted a routine inspection of Quizno's in Urbana last month, they discovered 12 critical health-code violations.
The Illinois Senate is moving toward action on a gambling expansion based on Gov. Pat Quinn's recommendations.
Lawmakers passed a major expansion plan earlier this year, but Quinn says he'll veto it.
He wants a plan that creates five new casinos, including one in Chicago, but does not allow slot machines at race tracks.
A Senate committee debated the proposal today. A vote by the full Senate could come later in the day.
If the measure fails, it would help lawmakers argue that only the larger expansion can draw enough support to pass. That might build a veto-proof majority for expansion.
The Champaign County Board will begin discussion of a permit for the Invenergy wind farm at committee meeting next month, but the county's Zoning Board of Appeals says the permit request should be denied.
On Thursday night, the ZBA voted 5-to-2 last night against the Invenergy project, citing concerns about noise pollution, and disagreement over how to handle the cost of decommissioning the turbines when they're no longer useful.
The Champaign County Board will have to reverse the decision of the Zoning Board of Appeals if it wants to locate a wind farm in the northeast part of the county. Board members cited concerns with the Chicago company's standards for noise pollution impacting the yard of a rural resident. County Planning and Zoning Director John Hall said the company's standards for noise don't comply with those of the Illinois Pollution Control Board.
"This is regarding whether the noise standard applies just at the line of the dwelling, or in the yard outside of the dwelling," Hall said. "It's that simple. Why would have a residential noise standard that only applies inside the dwelling? "
If the permit were approved, and Invenergy went bankrupt in 10 years, Hall said he is afraid no financial lien holder would step in at that point, meaning Champaign County may have to find more money to decommission the wind farm.
Marvin Johnson, who is the highway commissioner of Champaign County's Compromise Township, said he supports the plan. According to Johnson, the township's road agreement with Invenergy would bring substantial upgrades to a 14-mile stretch of road.
"Tremendous benefits to the road district," Johnson said. "Upgrading of roads, financial assistance, things that in our small district, we've probably never be able to come up with. That's why I'm in favor of it."
Despite the ZBA's vote, the Champaign County Board has the final say. Board Democrat Alan Kurtz said the county can't afford not to come to a compromise with Invenergy.
"Our county needs the revenue," he said. "Our county needs clean, renewable energy. Our county needs safe wind farm turbines. This is my opinion, but I personally feel that we need to follow the ordinance. But I think that there are ways that we can always work around any considerable problems."
Kurtz said Invenergy has 'bent over backwards' to comply with what he calls one of the most stringent county wind ordinances in the state.
The Champaign County Board will first take up the proposal at the Nov. 1 Committee of the Whole meeting.
Invenergy was expected to start initial work on 100 turbines in Vermilion County this week. Champaign County's portion of the project would involve 39 turbines.
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