Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 03, 2010

Champaign County Learns It Has No Say in Regulating Proposed Coal Mine

Whether or not an underground coal mine opens on the Champaign-Vermilion County border, Champaign County officials will not be able to regulate it.

The Champaign County State's Attorney's office says a 1993 ruling from the Illinois Attorney General bars non-home-rule counties --- such as Champaign - from using zoning laws to regulate the mining of fossil fuels. The ruling was discovered after the Champaign County Board moved in August to defer discussion of the issue until September.

Champaign County Board Chairman Pius Weibel --- a geologist with the Illinois State Geological Survey --- says news of the ruling did not surprise him.

"There are other things related to the exploration for oil and gas, as well as coal, that are often are exempt from the normal rules", explains Weibel. "For example, in Illinois, if you're exploring for oil and gas, and/or coal, you do not have to have a license. Whereas for any other geological activity, you do have to have a license."

Some county board members and residents had called for zoning rules for mines, after learning that Indiana-based Sunrise Coal was buying up mineral rights for a possible coal mine south of Homer. Most of the mine would be in Vermilion County, which has no zoning code. But the western end of the mine would be in Champaign County

Critics of the proposed mine had raised concerns that Sunrise Coal would use the "long wall" mining technique, which they say carries a greater risk of land subsidence. But the company says if they go ahead with the mine, they would stick to the less invasive "room-and-pillar" method. State_Atty_Generals_Ruling_on_Mining.doc


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 01, 2010

Despite Unanswered Questions, Senator Has Faith in Reconfigured FutureGen

US Senator Dick Durbin said cost overruns in the original plan for FutureGen led to the decision to reconfigure the project.

Illinois' Senior Senator said for months, the price tag was going up faster than the FutureGen Alliance could generate private money to pay for it. Durbin said he was on a one-man crusade to find new companies to join the Alliance.

He added that once the Energy Department would not pay more than $1.1 billion, plans for a power plant in Mattoon were scrapped. Durbin said he only knew of FutureGen 2.0 six days before it was publicly announced, and he was told to keep silent then, while federal officials sought support from companies like Ameren. Durbin says he couldn't even tell companies with the FutureGen Alliance.

"The Alliance members knew that we were in trouble,' says Durbin. "Because they knew it was costing too much money. They were soliciting new members into the Alliance to try to keep up with the increased cost of the construction - we just couldn't keep up with it. They knew that we had an economic problem. The thing I didn't know was that the original concept of FutureGen that was announced and was solicited was now in production in four different places in the United States, so it was no longer a unique research undertaking."

Durbin said a plant of the same type in Mississippi was even larger than the proposed FutureGen plant for Mattoon.

The Senator says he knows a lot of residents there are upset, but added he did not sell out on them.

"At the end, Illinois ends up with $1.1 billion in clean-coal technology," he said. "It means that we're going to be leading the nation in terms of reducing emissions from coal-fired plants. We're going to use our own geology to be able to protect those emissions from causing environmental harm."

The companies making up the Alliance put their support Tuesday behind the new plan, which includes retrofitting a power plant in Western Illinois, and finding another community for storing carbon emissions.

Durbin admitted a lot of elements of the plan have to be spelled out by the Energy Department, but said the private sector buy-in will allow the project to succeed. Durban said twenty five other Illinois communities, including Marshall and Taylorville, have inquired about the new emissions facility. Durbin said Coles County and an area within 100 miles of it has the capacity to hold the emissions of 50 coal-fired power plants for 50 years.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 31, 2010

U of I Researcher Says Infants Should Eat Salmon

Adults are advised to eat fish a couple of times a week, and University of Illinois professor Susan Brewer of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition says parents should start feeding salmon to their infant children. Brewer spoke with Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers about a new baby food she helped develop with salmon as the key ingredient.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

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Categories: Environment, Health

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 31, 2010

FutureGen Alliance Agrees to Energy Department Changes

Companies that have worked with the U.S. Department of Energy in its bid to build an experimental coal power plant and store its carbon dioxide have decided to stick with the project, but the consortium said that a series of terms and conditions will have to be met this fall.

The Alliance wants to build and operate a pipeline that would be part of recent Energy Department changes, and they want to run the site where carbon dioxide would be stored underground. Alliance Board Chairman Steve Winberg said in a press release that the group is pleased that the federal government and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) have been able to preserve the $1 billion in funding for advancing clean coal technologies and associated jobs.

"We look forward to working with them and our new partners in making FutureGen 2.0 a success," said Winberg. The original FutureGen was to include a power plant near Mattoon, but the Department of Energy replaced the idea with plans for a new plant there for storing emissions. The new so-called clean coal project will now involve a retrofitted power plant in Western Illinois. Mattoon withdrew from the project after the change.

Meanwhile, the economic official who led Mattoon's effort to lure and develop the original FutureGen project calls the Alliance a group of great partners with high integrity. Coles Together President Angela Griffin says she wishes the companies all the best as they plan FutureGen 2.0. She says the Alliance is investing in the project for the right reasons - bringing a billion-dollar project to Illinois. But Griffin says it's unclear what exactly the Department of Energy will be seeking in a new community to house a carbon storage facility. She cites a press release put out by the DOE last week for interested communities.

"There were no site parameters or project parameters that the communities could then look at that would then say whether or not they were eligible," said Griffin. "Now, largely in that press release it talked about 10 square miles of subsurface, and I think 100 miles from the Meredosia plant. But other than that, I don't know that communites have received any direction about what they need to have in terms of site features in order to apply."

Griffin says she spoke with the mayor of Marshall, who expressed interest in luring the new FutureGen facility. And she says the mayor of Taylorville had also shown interest. But Griffin says she hasn't endorsed any community to host the new carbon storage facility. Griffin says her group may cross paths again with the FutureGen Alliance, as economic officials in Mattoon pursue development of technologies at the city's site that address greenhouse gas emissions. And Alliance Chairman Steve Winberg says the site in Mattoon is 'excellent' for future commercial development.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 27, 2010

Gas Leak Affects Downtown Champaign During Noon Hour

A gas leak in Champaign prompted the re-routing of cars and pedestrian traffic for about 90 minutes Friday.

Lieutenant John Millls with the Champaign Fire Department says an excavator hit a plastic line under the railroad tracks east of the Illinois Terminal building. The gas could be smelled for blocks when the line was hit just past 11:30, and a couple of businesses had to be evacuated. Mills says a crew was able to shut off a valve at Water and Chester streets just past 1. Firefighters left the scene at 1:15, and turned the scene over to Ameren for further repairs.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 25, 2010

New Plans for FutureGen Lead Some to Question Its Fate

New revisions in the Department of Energy's FutureGen project has led one local lawmaker to question its viability.

The DOE had already scrapped a new clean coal power plant for Mattoon, in favor of a retrofitted plant in western Illinois. The DOE is also looking for a new site for underground carbon dioxide sequestration, after Mattoon decided to withdraw from FutureGen. Under the latest revised plans, the underground storage site needs ten acres of land --- about five times the size of the Mattoon site. State Representative Chapin Rose --- whose district includes Mattoon --- said the Energy Department's changes threaten to ruin FutureGen

"How on earth are they going to secure the easement for these property owners for a 10-square mile area," asked Rose, who said FutureGen was at one point a good idea. "I don't think the thing's ever going to happen."

The DOE wants to begin construction of the FutureGen project by 2012, but needs to produce an environmental impact report on the storage site first. John Thompson with the non-profit Clean Air Task Force said that alone could take up to three years. He said he wants FutureGen to succeed, but he is concerned the latest changes to the plan may put it in jeopardy.

"If they need to take more time to find the right storage site, they need to do that," said Thompson. "But what's happened over the last month or so is a number of changes that are occurring very quickly without careful consideration, and that needs to change."

A new storage site must be picked before September 30, the deadline when the federal government can dedicate billion of dollars in stimulus funds for FutureGen.

Thompson said he believes the DOE should carefully review the best possible storage fields across the state before it makes a decision, even if it means determining that a nearby power plant would be a better fit for the new oxy-combustion technique rather than the Meredosia plant.

Categories: Energy, Environment, Technology

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 20, 2010

Raising Awareness About Devastating Flood in Pakistan

The devastation caused by the flooding in Pakistan is clear - 20 million people affected. That is more than the combined populations of Illinois and Indiana. Reports put the dead at 1,600. Asma Faiz is a doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois. Faiz recently returned from Islamabad, and she spoke to Illinois Public Media's Celeste Quinn about the importance of raising awareness and support for the country.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

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Categories: Environment, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 13, 2010

Other Illinois Communities Taking a Second Look at FutureGen 2.0

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 12, 2010

Tuscola Says it May Revive Its Interest in FutureGen

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 11, 2010

Coles Together: Mattoon Says No to FutureGen 2.0

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.


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