Illinois Public Media News
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.
Information Technology could be the first area at the University of Illinois to see some cost reductions under a 3-year plan to reduce expenses by about $60 million.
Former U of I administrator Craig Bazzani co-chaired the Administrative Review and Restructuring Working Group. He says Information Technology, costing about $300 million annually, brought the most obvious concerns. Bazzani says only a third of that supports central computing operations on the U of I's three campuses, as well as the administration and university hospital. He says that leaves a lot of opportunities for consolidation among data centers... potentially saving on equipment, energy costs, space... and personnel. "If we can become more system-itized in renewing all our desktop equipment at essentially a scheduled basis, we made an estimate for example we might be able to reduce 50 people who simply would not be needed to support the maintenance on desktops," said Bazzani. "So I.T. is one area I would point to for lots of opportunities for consolidation - a fresh look at new technology."
Bazzani's group said the school could save about $18 million in information technology functions. Another targeted area of the review is administration. Bazzani suggests reductions in the number of vice chancellors and assistants, saying the the three campuses need as many as are necessary, but as few as possible. "It's unimaginable that we would ask faculty and students to do more before we really have an opportunity to really deal with handling administrative costs in a better way," said Bazzani. "That was a clear signal from the president and the chancellors directly that we order and demonstrate things in a way to the academy that they feel comfortable before tuition goes up another nickel that we address some of these other problems."
Bazzani says it's often difficult for administrators to do their own internal review, but notes the U of I will need some outside help to deal with changes in the state's pension laws and how they affect human resources. "But to create a blueprint, it was our judgment that we know our culture best, we have an enormous number of content experts inside the university, many talented creative faculty and staff, and gave them the opportunity to step back in a very independent way, a very unbrideled way, to give us the best professional advice about where we see things moving in the next five years."
And he says while his panel is respectful of the academic differences between each U of I campus, members want to find ways to make administrators more compatible between the three cities. U of I Interim President Stanley Ikenberry will lead an implementation team to begin considering these and other changes. Bazzani says administration is moving quickly on the plan - and savings could be seen in as soon as two years.
A researcher at Mayo Clinic says a new collaboration with the University of Illinois will enable his facility to interpret the school's research.
The alliance impacting clinical research, bioengineering, and diagnostics has been in the works for about 18 months. Eric Wieben is Director of Mayo's Advanced Genomics Technology Center. He says the two entities complement one another well. For Wieben's line of work, he says DNA sequencing instruments are turning out more data each time they're used. Wieben says an institution like the U of I will improve care for patients by reading more than a billion letters of DNA code in one hour. "Mayo has a lot of patient information and samples that are in the queue for DNA sequencing," says Wieben. "The University of Illinois has world-renowned computing resources and the people who know how to use those to effectively make knowledge out of large amounts of data."
A Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the U of I, Rashid Bashir, says the goal of an alliance between the two is improving individualized medicine. The partnership will focus on computer-based skills, like tissue engineering. Bashir says this partnership could result in facilities that detect different markers of disease by feeding data through a digital network. He says the two parties have already received about 30 requests from researchers to work on the project, but that number could be growing. "We really hope that it will be open to any and all researchers from the University of Illinois and any researchers and physicians from Mayo Clinic," said Bashir. "Some partnerships have already initiated and we hope many more will come. So it's really kind of an umbrella agreement that gets the two institutions to work together towards these grant challenges for health care."
Both the U of I and Mayo Clinic are placing some seed money into the alliance, but Bashir says the majority of the work will rely on federal grant applications. The U of I and Mayo Clinic will each put some seed funds for the project, but the collaborators will seek out federal grants for most of their research. Mayo Clinic has three campuses, operating in Minnesota, Florida, and Arizona.
A University of Illinois Administrator says the school can take the lead in moving some textbooks to the web.
A $150,000 grant from the U-S Department of Education will enable administrators to pick one or two books as a kind of pilot project. Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs Charles Evans says the first advantage of the funds will be saving students the cost of a textbook. But the U of I will also be able to share these open source textbooks with other schools, like Parkland College and Northwester, where professors on those campuses can add their own lessons. The grant is intended to last one year, and could be continued... but Evans says one hope is for faculty to initiate their own on-line textbooks.
"We know how to publish a textbook," said Evans. "So we want to wet their appetites to doing more in that work.- because there are commercial entities who are in this field already. We could go back for another grant to do more, but I think there are organizations and other corporations that would be interested in working with our faculty." Evans says the on-line initiative was spearheaded by US Senator Dick Durbin, who's been vocal about the rising cost of college textbooks. Evans says another key to the grant is helping community colleges. "Once we come up with a topic, we will bring in community college faculty to say, 'how can we best work with you in this topic?," Evans said. The grant was announced by U-S Senator Roland Burris' office on Thursday.
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.
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