Illinois Public Media News
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.
Recycling pickup for multi-family housing will come to Champaign next year, under an item approved for the new city budget.
In a tight budget year, Champaign officials are counting on user fees to pay for recycling pickups at multi-family buildings. The fee is expected to be 2 to 3 dollars per month per dwelling, or per person in shared housing such as fraternities and sororities.
City Councilwoman Deb Feinen says she's waited a long time for Champaign apartment dwellers be able to get recycling pickup, which has been offered in Urbana for years.
"When I got on Council, I was basically told by some other council members, 'no way, not gonna happen, we've voted on that before, go away, I don't wanna talk to you about it'", says Feinen. "I am delighted that we are now in a situation, four years later, to see multi-family recycling."
Apartment building owners in Champaign were always allowed to contract for recycling pickup on their own. But the budget item approved Tuesday night requires the service at all multi-family dwellings citywide.
The recycling issue was part of a review of the proposed city budget which Champaign City Council members wrapped up Tuesday night. They'll take a final vote in June.
New contracts for residential recycling pickup in Urbana are on hold, until the city council gets answers about why apartment dwellers would be able to recycle more materials than those who live in single-family homes
The extra material in question is number six polystyrene plastic. Urbana-based Community Resource is offering to pick up the hard-to-recycle plastic --- except for foam --- in its winning bid for multi-family recycling in the city. But ABC Sanitary Hauling of Champaign would NOT recycle Number Six, under its winning bid to continue as Urbana's single-family curbside recycler.
Alderman Charlie Smyth says he wants both residential recycling programs in Urbana to accept Number Six Plastic.
"Because really, it's confusing to have one program doing more than the other", says Smyth. "I'll just as soon put my stuff in Multi-Family, because I'll be able to more. I want to be able to put all my plastic film and #6 plastic in, and not have to worry about checking all the stupid numbers. If I just know I can put every bit of plastic in the barrel, I'm going to be happy."
The Urbana City Council was set to vote on both the curbside and multi-family recycling bids Monday night. But now the issue goes back to the city council's Committee of the Whole for more discussion.
The bicycling community in Champaign-Urbana hopes to start commuters on a new habit Tuesday morning.
"CU Bike to Work Day" has attracted about 500 people who have signed up to receive a t-shirt and pledge to ride their bike instead of drive. Rick Langlois of the group Champaign County Bikes says the group is now out of shirts, but it still expects lots of unregistered riders to take part too.
He says the goal of the event is to encourage more bicyclists to overcome their worries and take to the streets. Langlois says some are concerned about safety, which is why his group advocates bike lanes for a little more peace of mind.
"Bike lanes are very much an effort to assist those less comfortable or average adult riders feel more comfortable," said Langlois. "A bike lane is not a magic force field and it doesn't keep somerone from being struck by a vehicle, but it does designate a space where a bicyclist is expected to be."
But Langlois also reminds drivers that bicyclists also have the right to use a traffic lane in areas without bike lanes.
He says the bike group is also collecting information on bicycle use for planners in Champaign and Urbana as they consider infrastructure in the years ahead.
A yearly ranking of cities and their air pollution problems lists Champaign-Urbana as relatively problem-free.
The area is listed as one of 25 cleanest when it comes to short-term pollution from particulate matter. The report covers the years 2006 through 2008 and compares metropolitan areas across the country.
Katie Lorenz is with the American Lung Association, which commissioned the study - she says Champaign-Urbana also fared well when it comes to ozone pollution over those three years.
"In Champaign there was one ozone day in the orange category, which means unhealthy levels of pollution for sensitive groups," Lorenz said. "And for that reading w gave them a B, which is actually pretty good comparatively across the state."
In comparison, McLean County had five days with orange-level ozone pollution two years ago, and Cook County had 25.
Lorenz says some long-term trends may be to credit for the improvement. "One of the reasons why we think that the quality has been better is due to reductions in emissions from coal-fired power plants. (Also,) transition to cleaner diesel fuels and engines and really the steps that individuals are taking every day to make sure the quality of our air is improved."
Still the Lung Association's "State of the Air" study found that the St. Louis and Indianapolis areas suffer significant year-round pollution despite year-by-year improvements.
Student organizers of Thursday's Earth Day rally on the U of I Urbana campus focused on 'no more coal'.
Parker Laubach heads the Beyond Coal campaign as part of the Students for Environmental Concern, which sponsored and organized the rally. He proposes stopping upgrades to the campus' Abbott Power Plant and beginning the phase-out of coal on the university's campus.
But, Champaign City Councilman and Deputy Mayor Michael LaDue is surprised that the focus isn't more on reducing campus car traffic.
"Automobiles don't burn coal, but coal is a significant issue, "says LaDue. "I won't dismiss it. But on the University of Illinois campus, I think the presence of gas-guzzling automobiles is the preeminent environmental problem"
Reducing coal use was one of three actions proposed by student speakers during the rally.
The rally also featured LaDue and Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing reading proclamations on their cities' commitment to promoting environmental education and fighting climate change. Interim Chancellor Robert Easter also spoke about the university's commitment to environmental policies.
Thursday marked the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day.
A tree-killing beetle is inching closer to Champaign and Vermilion Counties.
Field workers recently found the emerald ash borer in about a dozen ash trees at a rest stop along I-57 near the Iroquois County town of Loda. A quarantine on bringing in firewood already impacts all or part of 21 Illinois Counties... most of them in northern and northeast Illinois. But it was extended downstate to McLean County after beetles were discovered in some trees in Bloomington two years ago. Warren Goetsch is the Illinois Department of Agriculture's bureau chief of environmental programs. He says there's a good chance those boundaries will extend to the east soon. "Just because of the way the infestations have been in Indiana - they're kind of looking at it from a national perspective," says Goetsch. "And sometimes, that big picture perspective perhaps causes us to work in some areas that maybe would have liked to have done a little differently. And so this gives us a little more confidence that we need to be doing some more trapping in East Central Illinois."
Goetsch says by telling people not to move firewood, to purchase it locally, and to burn it all when camping, they'll minimize the 'artificial' spread of the insect. Goetsch says he expects a number of ash borer traps to soon be set in Champaign and Vermilion Counties. The larvae from the green beetles burrow into the bark of ash trees, cutting off their food supply. The ash borer has killed more than 25 million ash trees in states like Michigan, Ohio and Missouri since 2002. It was first found in Illinois in northern Kane County in 2006.
The main source of power to the University of Illinois campus burns coal, but a student group wants to convert it to something cleaner.
Environmental groups have also gotten behind a call to make Abbott Power Plant a natural-gas-burning plant. It was built 70 years ago and has burned coal ever since, except for a period in the 1970s when the U of I converted it to natural gas. The university reverted to coal to demonstrate cleaner burning methods using Illinois coal.
Parker Laubach heads Students for Environmental Concerns. He acknowledges that natural gas would also emit carbon dioxide, but it would be a good first step to other alternative sources.
"We want to take incremental steps," Laubach said. "We don't want to be ridiculous and ask to shut down Abbott Power Plant -- we know it's not feasible or reasonable. But they've burned 100% natural gas in the past, and because of that, we feel that they can do it again. There's really no reason why not."
University officials have not yet returned calls seeking a response.
Laubach says the U of I is proposing to to spend $230 million on improvements at Abbott - money he says would be better spent on conversion to cleaner sources. He says research on cleaner coal burning is useful, but so-called carbon-capture technology hasn't been tested on a large scale.
The debate over extending Olympian Drive moved to the Champaign City Council chamber last (Tuesday) night. Council members gave their preliminary endorsement for an intergovernmental agreement with Urbana and Champaign County to complete the 27-millon dollar extension.
Council members also heard comments from landowners in the area of the extension who oppose the project. They say that the road --- and the development it would attract --- would destroy hundreds of acres of high-quality farmland. They found an ally in Councilwoman Marcy Dodds, who cast the lone "no" vote Tuesday night.
"Farmland is an amenity, not an obstacle," Dodds said before the vote. "It's sustainable economically, and it speaks to our quality of life. We need to stop looking at concrete like it's the last word in economics."
But John Dimit of the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation told the council that the impact of development on farmers would not be as bad as they feared.
"We all know 1600 acres --- that's been the touted amount that this land --- would open up for urban development. That's not going to happen overnight," Dimit said. "It's not going to happen at all if the road's not developed. But it'll happen gradually if the road is out there. So, many of the farms out there, I think will be able to continue in agricultural interests.
Backers of the Olympian Drive extension say it would provide a needed route between I-57 on the west side of Champaign-Urbana, and US 45 to the east. The project depends on a mix of state, local and federal funding. The Champaign City Council will take a final vote on the intergovernmental agreement on March 16. Urbana and the Champaign County Board will also vote on the proposal this spring.
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