Illinois Public Media News
Construction will start this month on a wind farm along the McLean and Woodford County lines.
Invenergy is building 100 wind turbines, producing 150 megawatts of power. Central Region Development Vice President Bryan Schueler says the company is working with contractors on a start date. He won't disclose the cost of the project.
The project was approved three years ago, but a group opposed to the wind farm sued over the zoning process. That lawsuit was settled in late 2008, but it took more time for Invenergy to find financing.
Meanwhile, Horizon Wind Energy has filed for a special use permit to build its third wind farm in central Illinois. That project is proposed for northeastern McLean County between Colfax, Lexington and Chenoa.
For the past several weeks, farmers in Champaign and Vermilion County have been talking about an Indiana coal company's interest in opening an underground coal mine under farmland at the Champaign-Vermilion border. Now a group of farmers and others critical of the idea are inviting the public to learn more at a meeting on Thursday night.
Sunrise Coal of Terre Haute is not represented on the list of speakers. That's the company that has been talking with landowners about mineral rights for an area located between Homer and Allerton. Instead, the meeting will feature environmental groups, and others concerned about how the mine would impact the area.
Vermilion County farmer Charles Goodall, one of the meeting organizers, says there are other mines in the area, but this is the first that would go underneath prime farmland. Goodall says Sunrise plans to wash coal on site, and the resulting waste water --- or slurry water --- would carry toxic elements from the coal.
"And the disposal would be either by dumping it in local streams, or by injecting it underground", says Goodall. "In either case, it can have an immediate or long-term impact by decreasing the amount of clean groundwater available to people both in their farms, but also available to villages that have groundwater based systems"
Goodall says he's also s worried that Sunrise coal may use ""longwall" mining techniques to extract the coal. "And that type of mining immediately drops bathtub-shaped ponds at the surface", according to Goodall. "And Illinois does not prohibit long-wall mining. So it's something that has to be included in each lease, as a type of mining not permitted by the lessor, the person who owns the land."
Longwall mining is just one technique that Sunrise Coal could use, if it builds an underground mine at the Champaign-Vermilion site. The coal company has not yet responded to a call for comment.
The public meeting about the proposed mine starts at 7 PM Thursday night at the Immanuel Lutheran Church, north of Broadlands.
The University of Illinois plans to use nearly $1 million in federal stimulus money on a center to train people to improve the energy efficiency of low-income residents' homes.
The university says it received a more than $959,000 grant for the Illinois Home Weatherization Assistance Program. It will be run by the university's Building Research Council. The council already offers classes on weatherizing homes.
Council instructor Paul Francisco says the money will help train workers to improve home energy efficiency.
University of Illinois administrators will renew their efforts to place a wind turbine on the Urbana campus.
In 2005, the U of I had initially sought three turbines for the south farms. Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement Steve Sonka says cost overruns caused former Chancellor Richard Herman to put the project on hold. But administrators are now asking the Clean Energy Community Foundation to extend a $2 million grant for the turbine. The grant was set to expire July 1st... but Sonka says administrators should be able to extend the use of those funds for enough time to get the turbine in place. Sonka says turbine costs have gone down, and Interim Chancellor Robert Easter was supportive of what the U of I would make back on a single turbine over time. "Chancellor Easter asked the F&S (Facilities and Services) people to look at the return, and for our portion of the investment, it's a reasonably attractive financial and energy saving environmental return," said Sonka. "A simple payback period 7 to 8 years is pretty attractive for a capital investment."
Sonka says the campus has undertaken many energy saving projects since 2005, including the replacement of inefficient heating and cooling systems - and pursing the turbine now makes sense. The grant would be partnered with funds from a $500,000 student fee, and Sonka says U of I would sell bonds to cover the remaining cost, around $2 million. Sonka says a new state procurement law taking effect in July also forces the university to wait until then to send out requests for proposals. Members of the U of I Student Sustainability Committee applauded the move. President Suhail Barot says the turbine is another factor that will help move forward the campus climate action plan of reducing energy use by 40% by the year 2025.
The University of Illinois is the first in the Big Ten to draft a long-term plan to make the campus more sustainable.
The ambitious plan calls for an end to the use of coal to provide power on the Urbana campus within seven years. It also proposes a 40 percent reduction in energy use by the year 2025 and a carbon-neutral campus by 2050. The plan is part of a nationwide effort by college campuses to make climate-action plans.
Dick Warner heads UIIUC's Office of Sustainability. He says higher education is the perfect place to begin concentrating on stemming climate change.
"I think the most important impact a decade from now will be the way these issues and concepts are in the minds of students who come here and then move onto their next chapter as citizens somewhere," Warner said. "So the way that we teach about this and behave about this is very important."
The U of I's biggest electricity and steam-heating source is the coal-fired Abbott Power Plant. Warner says in two years, the campus will add more specific details to the plan, but Abbott could either be converted to another power source or closed altogether. He says the plant needs $177 million in deferred maintenance.
A math error means Ameren can receive more revenue than originally anticipated in its request for a rate hike.
The Illinois Commerce Commission has corrected its projections. It says the utility company would get $15 million instead of the $5 million the agency when ruling on the request last week. But ICC spokeswoman Beth Bosch says while the additional $10 million dollars adds to Ameren's bottom line, it should have little, if any, impact on rates. "Because you spread it out over six companies, it doesn't change the rate impact significantly," said Bosch. "Gas rates will still be lower for delivery services. And the electricity rates will still be approximately the same as they were in the previous order." The increase between the rate case ruling released last week and the corrected one amounts about half a percentage point more for Ameren's IP, CILCO, and CIPS electric customers. Bosch says the mistake stemmed from a technical error in the calculation of Ameren's cash working capital.
But Ameren contends there are additional math errors in the ICC's ruling. Spokesman Leigh Morris says fixing 'several significant' mistakes would mean an additional $25 million in revenue, and the utility has filed an emergency motion with the ICC to have that done. But Morris says this decision is separate from whether the utility appeals its original rate hike request of $162 million. Ameren has until May 28th to request a re-hearing with the ICC.
More delays could be in store for a clean coal technology plant in eastern Illinois. The FutureGen Industrial Alliance is still negotiating finances with the state, dragging out a decision by the US Department of Energy on whether to build the plant in Mattoon.
Illinois Democratic US Senator Dick Durbin says the agency is extending its study of the experimental plant.
"I said that the Secretary of Energy had to decide this project on it's merits and I wanted him to do that," Durbin said over the weekend in Springfield. "I think we've made a good strong case, but we don't take anything more granted."
Durbin, the Majority Whip, says he's optimistic the plant will be built.
The Energy Department had planned to announce by now whether to go forward, but the agency has decided to keep studying the alliance's plans another 60 days.
If built, FutureGen would be the worlds' first zero emissions coal-fired power plant. Carbon dioxide created from burning coal would be stored underground. The project would create thousands of construction jobs.
Optimism remains that construction on the long-delayed FutureGen power plant will get the federal government's okay soon.
In the meantime, local officials can do little more than watch and wait for a decision from the Energy Department. It's in talks with corporate members of the FutureGen Alliance who want to get the $1.8 billion dollar coal-to-energy plant built and operating near Mattoon.
Angela Griffin heads the economic development group Coles Together. "As far as we know they're still in negotiations," Griffin said. "There's still a lot of details to be worked out with the agreement going forward, and they're not at liberty at this point to talk about those."
But Griffin says she and others in the Mattoon area are being kept up to date on the talks, even if she doesn't know the details. Griffin wouldn't estimate when the government and the Alliance can reach a conclusion.
She does say that once that agreement takes place, the construction phase will have a big impact on Mattoon. She says plant developers expect to keep cement plants within a 100-mile radius of FutureGen busy as they drill the initial wells for the plant's carbon-sequestration unit.
Ameren says it will seek a rehearing of its rate case ... after the Illinois Commerce Commission granted the utility only a fraction of what it seeking in increases for gas and electricity delivery.
At the same time, Ameren is cutting budgets, instituting a hiring freeze, reducing its use of contractors, and delaying or canceling some projects and activities.
In an internal newsletter released by the company, Ameren Illinois president Scott Cisel calls the actions "regrettable but necessary".
Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris says their core commitment to delivery reliable energy won't be affected. But he says customers might notice some changes in service.
"This doesn't mean it would, but we could be talking about wait times for calls to customer service, wait times to have new service installed" says Morris. "It could have impacts like that. Those aren't reliability issues but those are service quality issues."
The I-C-C voted 3 to 2 Thursday to allow Ameren just $4.75 million of the $130 million it was seeking in additional revenue on delivery rates. Morris says the company was surprised by the ruling, and believes it had made a strong argument for the full increase. Ameren has 30 days to seek a rehearing of its rate request. There's no guarantee that the ICC will grant a rehearing.
The Illinois Commerce Commission has rejected most of a request from Ameren to raise electricity and natural gas rates.
Ameren had sought an additional $162 million from customers. On Thursday, the ICC approved $5 million of that increase. The utility company released a statement, saying the decision may hinder Ameren's ability to provide the service customers expect. Spokesman Leigh Morris says the company will spend a few days reviewing the decision to decide its next steps... including whether to appeal. The Citizen Utility Board's Jim Chilsen praised the decision. "Ameren was asking for way too much," said Chilsen. "And the rate hike that it got will give the company all the funds it needs to provide safe, reliable service and to return a fair profit to stockholders."
ICC spokeswoman Beth Bosch says the cuts of more than 95-percent came from various line items on the delivery side of Ameren's power. "Ranging from incentive compensation to benefits, working cash, what kinds of projects they consider useful the rates could be collected on, operations and maintenance," said Bosch. She says the ICC also brought down the rate hike from what an administrative law judge had requested. The decision is also based on reviews from several parties, including local governments, the Attorney General, and AARP. Bosch says all of Ameren's gas rates should go down as a result of the decision, with electric rate hikes of 10-percent or less for Ameren IP, CILCO, and CIPS customers.
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