Illinois Public Media News
Add Decatur and Springfield to the list of Illinois towns thinking about bidding for a role in the reworked FutureGen clean-coal project.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin's office says a number of towns have inquired since Mattoon declined to become an underground storage site for carbon dioxide from a retrofitted coal plant in western Illinois. Durbin's office won't say which towns.
Mayor Mike McElroy says Decatur is looking into how many jobs the project might bring.
Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin says the capital city will take a hard look, too.
The Department of Energy last week announced radical changes in FutureGen. Plans to build a new power plant in Mattoon were scrapped in favor of retrofitting an old plant in Meredosia.
The Illinois community that was runner-up to Mattoon in the race to get the original FutureGen project has submitted its interest in the revamped version of the pollution-control project.
But the head of Tuscola Economic Development, Brian Moody, says local leaders need a lot more information on what's now being called FutureGen 2.0. Instead of a brand new coal-burning power plant, the project now involves piping carbon dioxide emissions from other power plants to an underground storage facility. On Wednes+day Mattoon leaders backed out of FutureGen, saying public opinion is against hosting only the CO2 storage site.
Moody says his community needs to know if Douglas County residents would want the site - and if the US Department of Energy will follow through.
"Folks feel like, can we trust any of these folks or not?" Moody said. "To me it's largely about what will they put in writing and what they can solidly commit to, and is that a potential positive for this area."
Moody says raw emotions have led some area lawmakers to call the underground storage concept a dumping ground - he says it's already happening in the Tuscola area with natural gas storage and a coal-burning generator at a local chemical plant.
Moody says Tuscola would have to draft a new plan since they don't have an option on the land once proposed for FutureGen.
The head of a Coles County economic development group says her community is bowing out of the FutureGen project if it doesn't revert back to its original form.
In a letter to U.S. Senator Dick Durbin released today, Coles Together director Angela Griffin says the community is almost unanimously against the revised plan for the experimental power generation project as revised last week by the Department of Energy. Griffin writes that the site chosen for FutureGen is best suited for the original proposal of a coal-burning power plant matched with an underground carbon sequestration facility. The new FutureGen plan would use only the underground repository, with the carbon dioxide piped in from existing coal-burning plants that are retrofitted with another new technology. Durbin also said a training facility for the new oxy-combustion technique would be built on the site where the power plant would have gone, but no funding was committed for that facility.
In the letter, Griffin writes that "we agreed to host what was presented as the world's first near-zero emissions research and demonstration facility - the latest in power generation technology paired with underground storage for the facility's greenhouse gas emissions." But she adds that "unfortunately, our role in FutureGen 2.0 does not support that effort. If FutureGen 2.0 moves ahead with the revised structure described today, it must be without Coles County."
Speaking with Illinois Public Media, Griffin also said that public opinion had turned almost unanimously against Coles County's participation. "We didn't believe -- and the community certainly didn't believe -- that the tradeoff in giving up the site and all of the work and engineering and surveying and studying that had been done out there was worth the carbon storage facility that DOE was proposing, that there could be many more uses for that site," Griffin said.
Durbin issued a written statement Wednesday afternoon saying he was disappointed by Mattoon's decision to drop out of FutureGen. He also wrote that he is soliciting proposals from other Illinois communities that would offer to host the CO2-storage facility. Durbin wrote, "I wish cost overruns, project delays and rapid advances in science in other parts of the country had not necessitated a change in the FutureGen project. But we must face reality."
The overhauled FutureGen proposal would shave $100 million off the $1.2 billion price tag. But soon after Durbin announced the change, local lawmakers and 15th District Congressman Tim Johnson slammed the change, saying they weren't informed and that Mattoon was given only one week to decide whether to proceed. They also derided the underground CO2-storage facility as a dumping ground for outside pollution.
Mattoon's decision to drop out ends several years of lobbying for FutureGen. The area won the project in late 2007, beating out Tuscola and two Texas locations. But soon after that announcement, the Energy Department scuttled the project out of cost concerns. It was revived by the Obama administration the following year, but last week Energy Secretary Stephen Chu said technology had already passed the original FutureGen proposal by, and that retrofitting existing plants with oxy-combustion technology would be a wiser and more effective way to spend the stimulus funds earmarked for FutureGen.
Two Republican lawmakers who represent Mattoon are angry about a deadline over the future of that city's role in the FutureGen project.
They include 15th district Congressman Tim Johnson, who says he plans to question the U-S Department of Energy about the government's decision to change the scope of the clean-coal experiment. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin told Mattoon government and economic development officials that they have a week to decide whether to continue their participation - last week Durbin announced that FutureGen would not include a coal-burning power plant in Mattoon, but the site would hold carbon dioxide piped in from existing power plants.
Durbin says federal funding needs to be ironed out soon. But Johnson calls the deadline insulting, saying the original plan was the result of arduous scientific examination. He says selecting another site would ignore the science that went into the selection. State representative Chapin Rose also questions how long Durbin knew of the change in plans before alerting Mattoon officials.
Illinois' back-to-school sales tax holiday started Friday Through August 15th, shoppers can buy clothing, shoes and school supplies --- priced up to $100 --- without having to pay the state's 5%sales tax.
Susan Hofer of the Illinois Department of Revenue says the chief reason for the tax holiday is to help families during a tight economy.
"Governor Quinn and the General Assembly felt that this year above all, we wanted to do what we could to give parents struggling financially a break on what they have to spend", says Hofer.
The sales tax holiday is also welcomed by retailers, many of which are promoting the temporary tax break in their advertising. But Mark Robyn of the Washington D-C based Tax Foundation says the savings to consumers are modest, in part because some merchants use the tax holidays to mask their own price increases. Robyn says retailers don't gain either, because shoppers just shift their buying to the tax holiday period, instead of buying more. He calls tax holidays a gimmick.
"If a state needs to offer a holiday from their sales tax", said Robyn during a news conference, "it may be a good indication that there are bigger problems with their sales tax."
Robyn's arguments are disputed by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, which lobbied for the bill creating the sales tax holiday. The group's president, David Vite, says competition will push merchants to cut prices even more.
"I'm aware of some who are going to be having 15-20% additional-off sales", says Vite. "This 5% is the icing. It's the gravy on the very good meal. It's what makes this an important economic stimulus package. It's what makes a great economic package. And retailers are going to take advantage of it by increased sales, not by increased prices."
The Illinois Retail Merchants Association lobbied for the tax holiday. Illinois joins 16 other states with tax holidays, including Missouri and Iowa. Their tax holidays also started Friday, but only run for the weekend, while the Illinois tax holiday runs through August 15th.
A spokeswoman for an Indiana-based coal company says she wants to set some minds at ease as its officials evaluate land in Champaign and Vermilion Counties for a possible underground mine.
Suzanne Jaworowski with Terre Haute-based Sunrise Coal says the mining technique they would use if they open a coal mine on the Champaign-Vermilion county border would not damage farmland. She says the company plans to use a room-and-pillar approach, which leaves the surface area intact and sustains it by only removing a certain portion of the coal undernearth. Farmers in the affected area south of Homer have been concerned that Sunrise would use what's called 'longwall' mining. Jaworowski says that technique carries the potential for damaging the land by removing large portions of coal at once.
Jaworoski says Sunrise plans to pursue a permit for work that would not result in subsidence or ground sinking as a result of building the underground mine. She says the company will release more information on its plans in the next week.
Sunrise Coal operates a coal mine in Carlisle, Indiana. the company is a subsidiary of Hallador Energy.
On Tuesday night... Champaign County Board members tabled discussion on zoning regulations for the mine. Board members say they first want to research how other counties have handled zoning for coal mines.
A newspaper article in the Chicago area has leaders in Decatur worrying about the status of a major employer.
British company Tate & Lyle can trace its roots in Decatur back to 1909 and the A. E. Staley Company. Its US headquarters is in one of the city's tallest buildings, next to its factory on Decatur's east side. But Crain's Chicago Business reported yesterday that Tate & Lyle has taken interest in an office building in suburban Hoffman Estates.
A Tate and Lyle spokeswoman has told media outlets that no decision has been made on a headquarters move. But Decatur city manager Ryan McCrady says economic development leaders need to keep in touch with the company to press the argument for staying where it is.
"Tate and Lyle would at this point not confirm that they were looking at any buildings in Hoffman Estates, just that they are looking at all of their business functions," McCrady said. "So I imagine that time is of the essence, and we're going to move as fast as possible."
McCrady says that includes reminding the company of Decatur's quality-of-life benefits for employees. But he says there may not be many economic incentives for the city to offer if Tate and Lyle moves within the state of Illinois.
Tate and Lyle employs up to 800 people in Decatur, but McCrady says that includes both the headquarters and the factory, and the factory location is not in question.
Workers rights advocates are praising an Illinois bill that promises to speed up the process of how wage theft claims are processed.
Gov. Pat Quinn is set to sign the bill into law Friday. It stiffens penalties for employers who shortchange or don't pay workers.
The law also gives the Illinois Department of Labor have more oversight in dealing with the 10,000-plus wage theft claims it gets annually.
The agency will have a designated division and fund to deal directly with claims of $3,000 or less.
Chris Williams is director of Chicago's Working Hands Legal Clinic. He says the changes speed up the process, particularly for those who need it most.
Experts say wage theft is an increasing problem in the downturned economy, particularly for low wage and immigrant workers.
A long-troubled resort inside Shelby County's Eagle Creek State Park is now in the hands of a new manager which promises an extensive makeover.
The state-owned hotel, conference center and golf course were closed last summer after years of declining business - mold had crept into the hotel, making it a significant challenge for the next manager. But the winner of the contract, Mike Ballinger of Decatur-based BMDD Resorts, says his firm will invest in Eagle Creek and try to make it profitable.
"It's going to be a 3.8 million dollar project," Ballinger said. "It's going to be more obviously if something unforeseen pops up. There's a mold remediation. The roof needs to be repaired. Drywall needs to be removed in some areas. Major cleaning."
Ballinger says it will take about a year to reopen the conference center, but the golf course could be open as soon as next month.
Ballinger's firm won the contract over four other bidders last winter - one of the losing bidders, nearby marina owner Dennis Fayhee, unsuccessfully challenged the state's decision claiming BMDD had a conflict of interest. Fayhee and his attorney have not been available to say whether they plan to further challenge the contract.
An airline's decision to leave the Champaign area's Willard Airport leaves only one airline serving the facility.
It also leaves Willard's manager wondering why Delta Air Lines plans to end its three daily flights to and from Detroit August 31. Steve Wanzek says he was shocked at Delta's phone call Wednesday afternoon mentioning the decision.
"It's been three weeks since they replaced the Saab turboprops with regional jets and added an extra flight," Wanzek said, hours after the call. "I thought we were headed in the right direction, and the feedback we were getting from the Delta desk people downstairs was that they were excited because passenger count had gone up."
Northwest Airlink flights between Willard and Detroit were rebadged with the Delta Express name last year as the two airlines merged. Mesaba Airlines operated the planes. The exit will leave only American Eagle at Willard, but Wanzek says American is a much more stable presence because Willard hosts a maintenance hub for their regional jets.
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