Illinois Public Media News
Energy company Dynegy will be closing its Vermilion Power facility near Oakwood by the end of March.
Company spokesman David Byford said mothballing the more than 50-year old facility largely comes down to economics.
"We have higher fuel costs at Vermilion because the plant is not located on a rail line," Byford said. "And that would be coupled with market conditions that would include reduced power demand and lower power prices that don't favor continued operations."
During a year-long review, Byford said company heads looked at options for the plant, including alternative fuel supply arrangements. But he said the price of fuel for supplying the plant with its coal also proved to be too much.
"We took a year exploring numerous options for the plant that included looking at alternative fuel supply arrangements," Byford said. "But in the end, we're still faced with poor plant economics."
Byford said the plant is no longer being used all the time, and he said a regional power grid ensures a reliable power supply to the area. The precise closure date for the plant is not known, but it is expected near the end of the first quarter of 2011. The company said the next step is for Dynegy to develop plans for suspending operations in a safe and reliable manner. The plant has about 50 employees, and Byford said it is not yet known whether they will be offered jobs elsewhere in the company.
The companies working with the U.S. Department of Energy to develop the FutureGen clean-coal project say they've cut the list of six potential carbon dioxide storage sites to four.
The FutureGen Alliance announced Monday the city of Quincy and Pike County north of St. Louis are no longer being considered, but Tuscola in Douglas County is still being considered. Other sites under consideration include Christian, Fayette and Morgan counties.
"This next step in the site selection process keeps FutureGen 2.0 on track," said U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) in a press release. "While the geology was not ideal in the communities that received disappointing news today, the four communities that remain in competition will now have the opportunity to strengthen their proposals. Hosting FutureGen 2.0 in Illinois will create thousands of good-paying jobs and put our state on the forefront of clean coal research and technology."
Morgan County in western Illinois is the location of the power plant FutureGen plans to refit with newer technology. Carbon dioxide from the coal used at the plant in Meredosia would be piped to the underground storage site. The Energy Department earlier this year scrapped plans to both build a new FutureGen plant and store CO2 in Mattoon.
The FutureGen 2.0 project and pipeline network is expected bring in around 1,000 jobs to downstate Illinois and another 1,000 jobs for suppliers across the state.
The alliance said it expects to pick a site in February 2011.
Wind Turbine Project Gets Smaller As Urbana Residents Learn About Energy Plan
A plan to generate renewable energy by constructing three wind turbines on the University of Illinois' South Farms site has been scaled down to one turbine located on the corner of Old Church Road and Philo Road.
The project is estimated to cost $4.5 million, and the university said it can only afford to support one tower with that budget.
"It's unlikely we'll be able to do more than one at this time," said Morgan Johnston, the University of Illinois' sustainability and transportation coordinator.
A company that's now building a wind farm in Iroquois County hopes to receive permits next week to build a second facility that would straddle the Iroquois-Ford County line.
E.ON Climate and Renewables wants permission to build up to 111 wind turbines in Ford and Iroquois Counties near the towns of Loda and Paxton. Most of the turbines would go up in Ford County.
Ford County Zoning Officer Larry Knilands said E.ON officials would like to start work on the project next year.
"They wanted to get a contract signed, as far as a road agreement, construction permit, you name it --- everything taken care by warm weather, so that they might be able to start construction by, say, October (of 2011)," Knilands said.
But Knilands said the signing a road agreement could be the difficult part of the process. He said negotiations on road agreements for two other wind farm projects in Ford County has delayed their construction --- one has been on hold for two years.
"We have to make sure that whatever road agreement we establish the first time around is something that will apply to any other wind farm company that comes along," Knilands said.
E.ON is currently building a separate wind farm in eastern Iroquois County. Both the Ford and Iroquois County Boards are scheduled to vote on zoning permits for the 2nd E.ON wind farm project at their regular meetings next week.
The Ford County Board will meet Monday, December 13th at 7 PM at the Ford County Jail in Paxton. The Iroquois County Board meets Tuesday, December 14th at 9 AM, at the county Administrative Center in Watseka.
The tax cut deal reached by President Obama and Senate Republicans this week includes an extension of tax credits for ethanol --- but another green energy program is not included. Now, supporters of wind and solar energy are lobbying Congress to include an extension of the so-called "Section 1603" grant program in the final tax bill. The program is slated to expire at the end of the month.
The 1603 program converts tax credits for renewable energy projects into up-front grants. Environment Illinois' Max Muller said those grants have helped qualifying companies build 14 new solar, wind energy and fuel cell facilities in Illinois --- resulting in the creation of new jobs at a time of high unemployment.
"Basically, if we don't want to see a precipitous drop in the number of new clean energy projects in Illinois and nationally, we need to extend this program," Muller said.
Among the recipients of 1603 grants in Illinois are nine wind farms, including the Cayuga Ridge Wind Farm in Livingston County near Streator.
Kevin Borgia of the Illinois Wind Energy Association says the grant program provides funding for renewable energy projects at a time when financing is hard to come by, and he said that has led to the creation of new jobs in Illinois.
"I think that the past history with the program is pretty impressive," Borgia said. "And there could be a loss to the Illinois economy if the program does sunset."
In the case of Illinois wind farms, the 1603 grant program has helped only a fraction of the 46 projects that have been built or were slated for construction as of July of this year, according to the Center for Renewable Energy at Illinois State University. Wind farms and other green energy projects will still be eligible for federal tax credits, even after the grant program runs out. But Borgia says the 1603 grants give companies more flexibility when it comes to putting wind farms projects together.
The tax cut deal worked out by President Obama and Senate Republicans includes a one-year extension of tax credits for ethanol --- although at 36 cents a gallon, which is down nine cents from the existing 45-cent tax credit set to run out Dec. 31st.
A spokesman for Illinois Congressman Tim Johnson, Phil Bloomer, said the one-year extension is shorter than what the Urbana Republican would prefer. Instead, Johnson said he wants a permanent extension of the tax credits.
"If you take these away, as it seems to indicate at this point," Bloomer said. "I think that would have severe consequences for farm states, for central Illinois and the entire Midwest."
But even a one-year extension of the the ethanol tax credit, even at a lower rate, would be good news to Illinois Corn Growers Association Board President Jim Reed. Reed said the tax credit has been key to making ethanol available to consumers, but he said it is time to look for a different way to encourage ethanol production, and an extension would give the industry time to do that.
"By it being extended a year," Reed said. "That really gives us the opportunity to stand back and think about what we can do to increase access to ethanol and make it more available to the consumer, and really do what we can help us limit that importation of the foreign oil."
But Clark Bullard with the Prairie Rivers Network said he does not care for the proposed extension of ethanol tax credits. The U of I Engineering professor said so much of the corn crop goes to making ethanol that corn prices are up, leading to higher food prices and environmental abuses.
"It has given farmers tremendous incentives to clear the last little strip of wildlife habitat, and ... bring highly erodible land into production, just to get more acres of corn at this higher price," Bullard said.
Bullard said even if the ethanol tax credit was dropped, federal mandates for ethanol use would still keep production up to a certain level. He supports further research into ethanol made from ethanol made from grasses or wood chips as an alternative to corn.
Eric Jakobsson was sworn in Monday night as alderman of Urbana's second ward.
Jakobsson, who is married to State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana), replaces former council member David Gehrig. Gehrig resigned from the seat in November citing the work overload. Mayor Laurel Prussing said she appointed Jakobsson, a former University of Illinois biology professor, because of his honesty and ability to make sound decisions.
"Well, I've known him for many years," Prussing said. "I think he's an individual with very high integrity, and what I was looking for with a council member is someone who would have very balanced approach to things, not jump to conclusions, but be willing to listen to people and ask good questions."
Jakobsson said he is ready to get to work on issues like historic preservation and the prospects of setting up a wind farm located outside the city on the University of Illinois campus in South Farms.
"One of the things that I welcome about it is the opportunity to be more fully engaged with the community," Jakobsson said.
At his first council meeting as an elected official Monday night, Jakobsson heard a spirited debate about the proposal for setting up the wind farm. While the project would not be based within Urbana, it would be close enough where city officials can enforce a zoning ordinance. The project has an estimated budget of about $4.5 million dollars, but supporters of the plan raised doubts over whether it would be economically feasible to construct three wind turbines as originally proposed.
Groups touting the plan, including the U of I's Students for Environmental Concerns, shared their voice of support for the project's environmental benefits while property owners raised concerns about the proximity of the wind turbines to their land.
A $2 million grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation would help set up the wind turbines, but that grant is slated to expire in May, leaving less time to make last minute changes to the project. Jakobsson said the city wants to see this project become a reality, but he said officials need to explore its impact on the entire community, including residential areas where noise pollution could become a big problem as a result of the wind turbines.
"When the city is given responsibility over an area, the city can't neglect that and the city won't, I'm sure," he said.
Jakobsson plans to stay on the council on a more permanent basis, which is why he is running in next year's city council race against Brian Dolinar of the Independent Media Center. Since both candidates are Democrats, a Feb. 22 primary will determine whose name appears on the ballot.
Lured by the promise of jobs and a boost for the state's coal industry, the Illinois House agreed to a plan that could pave the way for a controversial central Illinois power plant.
Omaha based Tenaska Corporation wants to build a coal fired power plant in Taylorville. It would use Illinois coal, which has fallen out of favor because of its high sulfur content. Emissions would be captured and stored underground.
It has taken years to get the proposal this far. Opponents are concerned about the legislation's requirement that utilities purchase power from the plant, which are expected to lead to higher electric rates over several decades. House sponsor Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley) said the cost factor was a sticking point.
"I would say that is part of the cost trade off for improving the overall economy," Mautino said.
Residential rates would be capped at a two-percent increase, but businesses and governmental bodies could pay more. Mautino admits it has been difficult convincing colleagues who represent other areas that it is a good deal for them.
"For example, when I buy a gallon of gas or fill my tank in Spring Valley, part of that money goes to fund the CTA which already gets 97-percent of all mass transit money to fund a bus I will never ride on," he said "Yet that is one of the costs built in to having an overall statewide system."
Mautino said a boost for Illinois coal will benefit the entire state. The plan still needs approval from Senators and the Governor to become law.
Months after a federal government U-turn in the long-running FutureGen clean-coal project, six Illinois locations have expressed interest in hosting a carbon dioxide storage site that could mean more than 1,000 short-term jobs and a few dozen permanent ones.
The bidders behind one of those locations, though, said Tuesday that their interest is laced with a heavy dose of skepticism after watching what appeared to be politics almost derail the project and then make radical changes in it.
The six locations that submitted bids before Monday's deadline are the city of Quincy; Christian County; the city of Tuscola along with Douglas County; Morgan County; Pike County; and the city of Vandalia along with Fayette County, FutureGen Alliance spokesman Lawrence Pacheco told the Associated Press on Tuesday. The alliance is made up of coal companies and other firms working with the federal government on the project.
"Our team of scientific and engineering experts has already begun review of those proposals, and we look forward to making an announcement on the final site in early 2011,'' FutureGen CEO Ken Humphreys said.
Until earlier this year the plan called for building a new power plant in Mattoon, Ill. and storing the carbon dioxide it produced just outside town. But the Department of Energy decided instead to use $1.2 billion in federal stimulus funding to refit an existing coal-burning Ameren plant in Meredosia, Ill., with different technology and pipe the carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, to another location for underground storage. That site would also become home to an education center to train people to build carbon dioxide pipelines.
The department said that, with delays in the FutureGen project, other projects had already bypassed the technology it had hoped to use in Mattoon.
The project had already been shelved once by the administration of President George W. Bush, only to be revived under President Barack Obama.
Many people in Mattoon tired of what they saw as politics holding up and changing the project, and the town withdrew.
Tuscola was among the four finalists, along with Mattoon, for the original project, and already had in hand much of the environmental and geological testing needed to bid to store the project's carbon dioxide, said Brian Moody, executive director of Tuscola Economic Development Inc. The area is interested, he said, but needs to know more from the Department of Energy about its plans.
"There's definitely a level of cynicism that we all have,'' he said. "It's obvious with the project, once it's gotten out of the site selection process and has been in the political realm, that's where it's had some problems."
"While we're generally supportive of the concept, we still need to know a lot more,'' Moody said. "In order to do that, we need to keep our name in the game."
Looking at the potential jobs, officials in Vandalia aren't nearly as skeptical, Mayor Rick Gottman said.
Unemployment in the area was 10.2 percent in September, the most recent month for which the Illinois Department of Employment Security has data.
Over the past few years, one major employer, Orgill Inc., moved a distribution center and about 140 jobs out of state, Gottman said. Another, Graham Packaging, has reduced its work force from about 800 to roughly 200.
"We're in a high unemployment area right now,'' he said. "We're looking at ways to create jobs.
Officials from Dynergy Inc. have raised concerns about the Vermilion Power Station's long-term stability.
The Houston-based company owns four power plants in Illinois, in addition to the Vermilion plant located near Oakwood. Dynergy spokesman David Byford said because of challenging market conditions coupled with the cost of transporting coal that is trucked to the plant, his company is looking at 'options' for the 54-year-old power station.
"For the short term, it's business as usual for the plant," Byford said.
Byford would not go into detail about what options the company's pursuing.
Dynegy may soon merge with the Blackstone Group for about $4.7 billion, which would include the assumption of Dynegy's debt. Dynegy Shareholders are scheduled to vote on the merger next week in Houston.
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