Illinois Public Media News
As the organizers of Champaign-Urbana's Big Broadband project prepare for the start next year of construction of the high-speed fiber-optic network ... they're asking local institutions to be early participants.
The Urbana Champaign Big Broadband Consortium, or UC2B, has sent out applications to some 300 hospitals, public safety agencies, schools, social service institutions and others, asking them to become "anchor institutions" in the new broadband network.
UC2B Project Manager John Kersh says getting local institutions on board with the new network will enrich the service for residential and other customers who join them later --- because all would be receiving the same high-speed service.
"One primary example would be increased accessibility between medical facilities or rescue and fire, and residents", says Kersh. "And there could be some things that could be done with the technology and accessibility between those two entities."
Kersh says the cost of connecting to the new fiber-optic network would be free for the anchor institutions --- paid for by the federal grant UC2B was awarded earlier this year. The anchors would only pay the monthly service charge, which Kersh says will be lower than what the typical private Internet provider charges.
Potential anchor institutions have until September 1st to submit their applications.
Kersh says if UC2B keeps to its construction schedule, some of the anchor institutions could be using the new high-speed network some time next year.
UC2B is a joint project of the cities of Champaign and Urbana and the University of Illinois. A federal grant is funding construction of UC2B's core network, and hookups to underserved neighborhoods and the anchor institutions. The network will also be available to other Internet service providers.
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.
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.
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.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is demanding that Mattoon officials decide by the end of the week whether they want to be part of the revised FutureGen clean-coal project.
Durbin made the demand Monday in a letter to Angela Griffin. She leads the Coles Together economic development group in Coles County. "We need to make sure that we understand exactly what FutureGen 2.0 represents," said Griffin. "We need to make sure that we've considered everthing - that we haven't eliminated something from consideration that's important. We need to consider the immediate impact, and we need to consider the long-term impact. This project as presented has several faces to it, and we need to consider what DOE's (The Department of Energy's) long-term plans are for a carbon storage system in Mattoon." But Griffin says she holds no ill will towards Senator Durbin, who she notes worked for this project and the Mattoon community for years, at a time when many others in Washington turned their backs on it.
Until last week FutureGen included a power plant to be built in Mattoon with carbon dioxide from its coal stored underground. The Department of Energy now wants to retrofit a plant across the state in Meredosia. Mattoon would store carbon dioxide from that plant. The department has said it needs to finalize revisions by Sept. 30 to use $1.1 billion in stimulus funds. Durbin says the Department of Energy needs to find a new carbon storage site if Mattoon isn't interested. Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson says his request to meet with Energy Secretary Steven Chu about the changes has been turned down.
The FutureGen project has taken a completely new turn -- and the bottom line is that Mattoon will not be hosting a power plant.
Instead, Senator Dick Durbin says the Department of Energy's new plan for the project is to retrofit an existing coal-fired power plant in western Illinois with a process called oxy-combustion. That process is designed to reduce CO2 emissions from the plant - what DOES get emitted would be sent by a brand new pipeline to Mattoon, where it would be stored in the underground facility that was already proposed for that site.
Durbin says Mattoon will still host a major portion of the FutureGen project - just not a freestanding power plant.
"It really made no sense to say we're going to build a power plant to prove what's already being tested in three of four different commercial facilities. That happens when you wait six years," Durbin told reporters Thursday afternoon. "So we tried to pick a technology that had a future, for retrofitting power plants and creating a pipeline that would be of value."
Durbin says the change will reduce the price tag to $1.2 billion, some of it contributed by the alliance of power and coal companies in FutureGen. He says plant retrofitting and pipeline work could begin next spring - the underground pipeline would use existing easements, some of them already containing pipelines.
Senator Durbin also says instead of the plant, Mattoon site would hold a training facility for experts to retrofit many other coal-fired plants across the country over time. But he says funding for that facility has not yet been lined up.
The University of Illinois plans to revamp its communication services for faculty and staff members.
Services like e-mail, phone, and instant messaging are offered through different providers, but in about two years, the U of I plans to consolidate those services through the computer company, Microsoft. This is expected to save about $3 million each year. Charley Kline is the Information Technology Architect for Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services (CITES), which offers technical services at the U of I. While the plan is being sold as a cost-saving measure, Kline said that it is also a sign that times are changing.
"When you think about the phone system that we use, it's basically 1960s, 1970s technology," he said. "It hasn't changed much in about 50 years."
The new telephone service will made available through Microsoft and carried on a computer program. People who are not ready to make the switch from a telephone to a computer will be able to use a special receiver that is compatible with this new service.
The U of I also has plans to fully automate its campus directory line by November, rather than having a live operator available during the day. It has already started to scale back on campus operators. CITES' associate director, Janet Jones, said the actual number of campus operators has been declining over the years.
"More and more customers are using online technology," said Jones.
In the last month, the number of operators has been cut from five to one, and the final operator is expected to retire in November. Jones said other colleges and universities have already made similar changes to their directory systems.
The B-17 Bomber turns 75 this year. The fleet of planes covered the skies of Germany during World War II bombing raids, but today only a few remain. These flying bricks could sustain such significant battle damage that the aircraft lived up to its name, the Flying Fortress. To mark 75 years, the plane recently stopped at Willard Airport near Champaign. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers had a chance to take a ride in the Flying Fortress.
Decatur has become the latest Illinois community to benefit from an update to more than 20-year old telecommunications law.
Governor Pat Quinn was in the city Monday, announcing it now has access to AT&T's super-fast mobile broadband network. Craig Coil is the President of the Decatur and Macon County Economic Development Corporation. He says the city has been behind the curve in luring in new technology, particularly for the business community - and that it's safe to assume to the announcement will lead to new jobs in Decatur. Earlier this month, the Governor signed off on a plan that updates a 1985 law, giving phone companies more flexibility to expand service. The measure allows the companies to change pricing and package deals without having to wait for approval from the Illinois Commerce Commission.
Coil says the changes are critical as everyone becomes more mobile. "The day of the land line is guess is, while not gone, certainly diminished over what it had been in past years," said Coil. "Our ability to take advantage of these techologies continues to be a critical factor, along with the ongoing ability of our community to communicate globally and more efficiently and more effectively, so it's a positive for everybody."
Last week, AT&T announced plans to add more than 80 cell sites in Illinois this year, along with the upgrade of 300 other sites. The company has spent more than a billion dollars to bring the 3G broadband network to Illinois.
Once a year for the last 20 years, a park in Champaign becomes a kind of launching pad.
This year, the Great Annual Rocket Launch takes on the theme of 'The Year We Make Contact' - since it is 2010. Awards will include best Science Fiction or Fantasy Rocket and Best Flying Saucer Flight.
Jonathan Sivier with the group Central Illinois Aerospace says there's no telling how complex some of the amateur spacecraft will be. But he says there could be a wide variety of designs this year. "Some things that look like something from a movie or TV show or something like that." said Sivier. "We have a secondary theme of flying saucers, and then every year we have - 'what's the most impressive flight of the day?' 'what's best the best looking rocket of the day?'... it's all very arbitrary." Sivier says the projects vary, but adds he's amazed what some can do compared to when the group started in the early 90's. "There are some little bitty video cameras that are very tiny, but get really good results from their rockets," said Sivier. "And the variety of motors that are available for rockets these days is quite wide."
Sivier and some friends started Central Illinois Aerospace when they were students at Mahomet-Seymour High School. It now has more than 40 regular members, but he says many more come out for the annual rocket launch. It's from 10 to 4 Saturday in Dodds Park, and includes a potluck dinner.
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