Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 21, 2009

Utility Predicts Lower Winter Natural Gas Prices

If natural gas prices are stable this winter, central and southern Illinois homeowners will pay less to heat their homes.

Ameren predicts the price it will pay for natural gas will average 26 percent less than last year's heating season. The utility passes along the price it pays for gas directly to billpayers - and this fall, spokesman Leigh Morris says it's considerably less than the price spike we saw last year with gas and other types of fuel.

"Just going back one year, it was $1.32 a therm, and right now the October price is $0.56 a therm. That's the average for all three utilities," Morris said, citing the three divisions of Ameren's Illinois utilities. "That's about a 58 percent movement from a year ago."

The recession may be to blame for the worldwide drop in demand for natural gas - and thus the drop in prices. Morris is quick to point out that Ameren's pending request for a gas rate increase involves the fee the utility charges to deliver that gas.

Categories: Business, Economics, Energy

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 11, 2009

U of I Solar House Ready for Competition

For the second time, a team of University of Illinois students is getting ready to take their solar-powered house to Washington D-C, where it will compete in the U-S Energy Department's biennial Solar Decathlon.

An open house on Thursday night served as a housewarming party. Graduate student in architecture Cam Greenlee played "Scotland the Brave" on the bagpipes, as the outdoor LED lights were turned on at the small house that's been dubbed the Gable Home.

With just 560 square feet of living space, the three-room house is small --- cozy, according to one student. Greenlee says the Solar Decathlon rules call for homes of no more than 800 square feet --- and some of that space went for things like the one-foot thick insulation to help insure energy efficiency.

"And so a lot of our design had to do with how do we use the little space that we have very efficiently", explained Greenlee. "And so, even though it's 560 square feet, I think two people could comfortably live in the house."

The south side of the Gable Home's roof is covered entirely in solar panels, the source -- both directly and indirectly --- for all of the home's power. While solar homes in past competitions used batteries at night, new rules at the Solar Decathlon allow the use of electricity from the conventional power grid. However, the house must send at least as much electricity back into the grid as it takes out. U of I Architecture Professor and Project Manager Mark Taylor says the Gable Home does that, and then some.

"If you actually go around to the east side", says Taylor, "you can see our little (electric) meter that you have on a typical house. And it's actually spinning backwards."

The U of I Solar Decathlon Team worked with area firms to build the Gable Home. Springfield-based Lamboo Incorporated developed the treated bamboo used in the home's frame. Goodfield-based Homeway Homes handled the modular construction, leaving it up to the students to design the home's interior and energy system.

Graduate student in architecture Philip Dimick helped design the Gable Home's compact bedroom. Because of the home's small size, Dimick says they used cabinets with sliding doors and wardobes to maximize space. "The challenge of the bedroom was that in order to get all the space we wanted in the main room (a combination kitchen, dining room and living room), we needed to not have a bedroom closet. And so that required the design of the cabinets."

When the U of I first entered the Solar Decathlon in 2007, their entry came in 9th place overall, out of 19 teams. This year, the U of I's Gable Home will be among 20 entries from the U-S, Canada and Europe.

The Gable Home will be transported to Washington D-C, to be set up with 19 other Solar Decathlon entries on the National Mall, October 9th through the 18th. For now, it's on display on the University of Illinois Urbana campus. It's open to the public Saturday and Sunday, September 12th and 13th, from 10 AM until 6 PM.

Categories: Education, Energy

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 12, 2009

Ameren Seeking Out the Right Path for a High-Power Electric Line

Ameren says an expanding portion of Southwest Champaign has necessitated plans for a new transmission line.

The first of two public meetings to help determine the route for the utility proposed 138-thousand volt line is Monday. It would extend from the Bondville Route 10 substation to one on the southwest portion of the University of Illinois campus in Savoy.

Spokesman Leigh Morris says what's key are any concerns about 'sensitivities' someone may want the line to steer clear of:

"It could be something like a cemetery, it could be a flood plain, it could be an archaeological site, a hospital, a school," Morris said. "But we need that kind of input, and we certainly want people to come because we need that input to develop the routes."

At a second open house this fall... Ameren IP will unveil its proposals for routes. Morris says feedback will still play a role then in what's submitted to the Illinois Commerce Commission. The filing with the ICC will take place in January, and its review process is expected to take 12 to 15 months.

Many routes for the line are already under consideration... they can be viewed on line at CI transmission-dot-com. Ameren's first public meeting on the transmission line is Monday from 4 to 7 at the Holiday Inn on Killarney Street in Urbana.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 15, 2009

Another Bureaucratic Hurdle Cleared for FutureGen

Action Tuesday by the U-S Energy Department gives a green light to action at the FutureGen site near Mattoon. So says Angela Griffin, president of the economic development group Coles Together.

The Energy Department issues a formal Record of Decision which formally approves FutureGen's goals, objectives and potential environmental impacts. Griffin says before, the FutureGen Alliance could only work on the experimental clean coal project in general terms. Now, she says they can focus directly on conditions at the Mattoon site.

"They can do some very site-specific engineering and design work, which will then lead to some very specific cost estimates which are needed to get at the final cost of the plant.," Griffith said. "This allows them to do some work here, it allows them do some further subsurface characterization of the site, to verify what we already believe is the case, to spend some money at our site in a way that they weren't able to do before today."

The FutureGen project aims to build an experimental coal gasification plant that cuts down on carbon emissions by burying them underground. The project depends on both federal funding and money from the energy industry. The Bush Administration had pulled away from the project, citing rising cost estimates. But FutureGen found new support under the Obama administration.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 01, 2009

Planning a High-Voltage Line with More Public Input

Ameren is planning a summer of public input as it proposes a new high-voltage electric transmission line around Champaign's western and southern outskirts.

The 138-thousand volt line would link substations in Bondville and Champaign's south side and would bring more capacity to the area around the University of Illinois campus, including the future Blue Waters petascale computer project.

Marty Hipple is supervising the planning for the line. "It provides capacity to serve that future load that's forecasted, and it provides a loop in network transmission to improve the reliability of existing transmission," Hipple said.

Doni Murphy, a planning consultant working with Ameren, says lists of "sensitivities" will be drawn up so that those planning the route of the new line can watch out for them. "Existing developments, proposed developments, whether they be residential, commercial or what have you," Murphy said. "And often times you'll see the traditional environmental considerations like wetlands, archaeological and cultural sites, protected species habitats, things of that nature."

Ameren says it will hold open houses and meetings with local officials to find three recommended routes for the line. The utility would submit those proposals this winter to the Illinois Commerce Commission, which would decide if and where the line would be built. Ameren hopes to finish it by 2014.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 15, 2009

Passive House’ Comes to U of I Campus

The first part of what will become a solar house will be delivered to the University of Illinois' Urbana campus today.

Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Patrick Chapman says students have so far designed the 'shell' of the Gable Home. That was put together by a builder in Goodfield, and is now coming to campus for students in engineering and architecture to finish details like painting, cabinets, heating and air conditioning, as well as special equipment like the solar array. Chapman says the house was designed specifically for Central Illinois. "This particular house has what's called super insulated walls, very specially designed windows, and so forth," says Chapman. "So you get free heating in the winter and free cooling in the summer, in effect. And according to my calculations, it only would take $75 worth of electricity to heat and cool the house for the entire year."

The passive house was also designed with the region in mind - reclaiming wood from dilapidated barns. It will be moving again this fall. The students will be taking the Gable Home to the 2009 Solar Decathlon in Washington, DC in October. There, the house will be judged in 10 different areas of competition, including energy balance, comfort, lighting, and architecture. The U of I will be competing against 19 other schools. But the resting place for the Gable Home for the next few months will be south of the ACES library on South Goodwin Avenue in Urbana.

Categories: Architecture, Education, Energy

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 12, 2009

FutureGen Gets the Feds’ Green Flag Again

The Department of Energy has decided to move forward on a stalled futuristic coal-burning power plant in central Illinois that languished under the previous administration.

The project known as FutureGen would burn coal for power but store emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide underground. It was slated to be built in Mattoon but was canceled after a faulty cost analysis put the price of the project higher than it should have been.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a Friday morning statement that reviving FutureGen is an important step that shows the Obama Administration's commitment to carbon capture technology.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 06, 2009

Ameren files for Delivery Rate Hike with State Regulators

Ameren is seeking an increase in its electricity and natural gas delivery charges. The energy company filed the request Friday with the Illinois Commerce Commission.

The increases would affect the price of delivering energy to the customer, not the actual price of electricity and gas. If approved, Ameren says that the typical AmerenIP customer would pay $152s more per year. Ameren CILCO customers would pay $102 more. And Ameren CIPS customers would pay $119 more --- higher in the Metro East area. In this case, the typical customer uses 10-thousand kilowatt hours of electricity and 785 therms of natural gas a year.

Ameren has compiled details about its rate hike request on a special website, IllinoisRateFacts.com.

The ICC granted Ameren its last rate increase in September of last year.

Categories: Energy, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 22, 2009

Wind Farm Zoning Ordinance Breezes Through Champaign County Board

The Champaign County Board gave a big thumbs up to wind turbine farms Thursday night. County Board members voted 24 to 2 with one abstention to approve zoning rules which will allow the construction of large wind farms on agricultural land, if a special use permit is granted.

Champaign Democrat Alan Kurtz championed the wind farm ordinance in the Environment and Land Use Committee. He estimates that 200 wind turbines operating over the next 20 years in the county could bring in 250 million dollars in revenue to landowners and local governments. And Kurtz saw more benefits, noting that "there are hundreds of good-paying jobs that will be produced by green energy ... education in the form of revenue for schools and Parkland College .... clean air, displacements of tons of pollution in the air ... renewable energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

But not everyone in Champaign County is crazy about wind farms. The boards of Mahomet Township and neighboring Newcomb Township filed formal protests. Herb Schildt of the Newcomb Township Plan Commission said the ordinance was weakened when the map amendment component was removed, meaning neighbors of proposed wind farm sites cannot file formal protests. "If it is good and proper to require a map amendment for something as small as a beauty shop," said Schildt, "then it must also be good and proper to require a map amendment for something as large as a wind farm."

But representatives of two wind farm developers say the ordinance as originally presented would have been too restrictive to allow them to build in Champaign County. John Doster of Invenergy and Jeff Polz of Midwest Wind Energy said they were pleased with the ordinance in its final form. They say their companies hope to submit applications for wind farms in Champaign County sometime in late summer or fall.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 20, 2009

Champaign Council Asks for More Say in Locating County Wind Farms

The Champaign City Council is not protesting the Champaign County Board proposal to allow wind turbine farms in the county --- but it does have a suggestion.

Council members voted 5 to 4 Tuesday night to ask the county board to consider extending the city's buffers outside its borders where it has a say in zoning decisions to 2-and-a-half miles for wind farms. It's currently 1-and-a-half miles for all city zoning issues. Councilman Tom Bruno says he supports wind farms, but believes it's important that they not be built close to areas the city has slated for future development.

"I think that sound planning would have these wind farms, if they're appropriate for Champaign County, be built at a little safer distance from what is already inhabited municipality to allow for years of possible future growth without the conflict between wind turbines and residential housing," Bruno said.

Bruno supported a protest of the county board proposal, but the measure was narrowly defeated, 5 to 4. By the same margin, the Champaign City Council passed a resolution asking the county board to simply give them the 2-and-a-half mile zoning buffer. It's a request that's already been turned down by the county board's Environment and Land Use Committee. The full Champaign County Board will consider the wind farm proposal Thursday night.


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