Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 09, 2011

ComEd: Smart Grid Could Save Customers $2.8 Billion

Commonwealth Edison says smart grid technology could save customers more than $2.8 billion over the next 20 years.

ComEd released an analysis Monday from Black & Veatch that puts the cost of installing smart grid as less than or equal to the savings.

Mike McMahan, vice president of Smart Grid and Technology for ComEd, said a rate hike of $3 per customer would cover the cost of the technology, and it would be made up soon after the smart grid was installed.

"We estimate at least $2 of that would be returned to the customer on their bills at the end of the deployment period and there would be an additional $1 in savings associated with fewer outages," he said. "So benefit to the consumer that doesn't pass through the utility."

McMahan said the savings identified in the analysis would come from three major changes. First, the smart grid technology would eliminate manual meter reading, and thus meter reading jobs, because the smart meters would send information directly to ComEd. This would also mean, according to ComEd, more accurate bills and fewer service visits. Secondly, McMahan said smart meters would detect electricity theft and therefore cut down on energy losses. Lastly, McMahan said the new technology would bring enhanced disconnection and reconnection of services, minimizing collection costs during storms, power outages or even when a renter is ending their ComEd service.

Yet all of this rests on the signature of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. Earlier this year, legislators in Springfield passed the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act that would authorize rate hikes for both ComEd and Ameren customers to foot the smart grid bill. Quinn has said he would not sign the measure, as he wants power companies, rather than consumers, to pay for smart grid.

The bill doesn't sit well with members of the Citizens Utility Board. Executive Director David Kolata said he supports installing smart grid, but he does not think this bill is the way to do it.

"I think this analysis is further evidence that smart grid would be good investment for consumers -- we do think it's something that will save consumers money in medium and long term," Kolata said. "It's the other parts, though, that are problematic. You have to make sure you get those right. It's serving as Trojan horse for significant regulatory changes that apply to all ComEd's costs -- if it was just smart grid, it would have passed already."

The bill is currently on Gov. Quinn's desk.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 09, 2011

Workers Comp Change Prevents Injured Criminals from Collecting

Illinois state employees injured while committing crimes no longer will be able to get workers' compensation under a new law signed by Gov. Pat Quinn.

The law stems from a 2007 wreck involving former Illinois State Police Trooper Matt Mitchell. Mitchell was driving more than 100 mph and using his cell phone on Interstate 64 in southwestern Illinois when his cruiser crossed the median and slammed into a car. The two Collinsville sisters in that car were killed.

Mitchell later pleaded guilty to reckless homicide and was sentenced to 30 months of probation. His claim for workers' compensation for his injuries was denied.

Quinn says Illinois' workers' compensation system is meant to protect workers injured on the job, not those who commit crimes.

The new law takes immediate effect.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 08, 2011

Chicago Court Green-Lights Suit Against Donald Rumsfeld

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

A federal appeals court says two Americans who worked for an Iraqi contracting firm can move forward with a lawsuit that accuses former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld of being responsible for U.S. forces allegedly torturing them.

The ruling Monday from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago rejects arguments that Rumsfeld should be immune from such lawsuits for work performed as a Cabinet secretary.

Chicagoan Donald Vance and his colleague Nathan Ertel claim they were each tortured in 2006 after blowing the whistle on alleged illegal activities by the contracting company that employed them. Vance, a Navy veteran, claims he and Ertel were forcibly detained for weeks at Camp Cropper, a U.S. Army security detention facility in Baghdad, without being charged with any crime or being allowed to speak with an attorney.

Both men say they were subjected to sleep deprivation, blasting music, hunger and various threats during their incarceration. The lawsuit describes such practices as torture and alleges Rumsfeld personally took part in approving the methods for use by the military in Iraq.

Their attorney, Mike Kanovitz, welcomed the ruling, saying the court faced a choice between "protecting the most fundamental rights of American citizens in the difficult context of a war or leaving those rights solely in the hands of politicians and the military."

"It was not an easy choice for the Court to make, but it was the brave and right choice," Kanovitz said in a written statement.

An attorney for Rumsfeld blasted the ruling.

"Having judges second-guess the decisions made by the armed forces halfway around the world is no way to wage a war," David Rivkin, Jr., said in a written statement. "It saps the effectiveness of the military, puts American soldiers at risk, and shackles federal officials who have a constitutional duty to protect America."

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, which represents Rumsfeld in the case, declined comment on the ruling.

But Rivkin said he believes the decision will eventually be overturned.

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Tags: crime, people

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 08, 2011

Drug Tests to Continue for Ill. High School Sports

The association that oversees Illinois high school sports has announced it will continue testing athletes for performance enhancing drugs.

The Illinois High School Association said Monday its board voted to continue the testing that started in the 2008-09 school year. Illinois is one of three states that test high school athletes for performance enhancers such as steroids.

The association said it tested 747 athletes last school year and had four positive tests. Two of those were cleared by medical review and two were found to be true positives.

IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman said critics might consider the low number of positive test results a reason to stop testing. But he said the program is meant to be a deterrent rather than to catch all offenders.

Categories: Health, Sports
Tags: health, sports

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 08, 2011

IBM Withdraws from Blue Waters Supercomputer Project

IBM has dropped out of the Blue Waters Supercomputer project going on at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus due to apparent cost and technical concerns.

But the university's National Center for Supercomputing Applications said the company's decision is not expected to mean a setback for water-cooled supercomputer. The contract was terminated Saturday.

A joint statement released Monday by the company and NCSA stated that the technology ultimately developed "required significantly increased financial and technical support by IBM beyond its original expectations."

NCSA spokeswoman Trish Barker said efforts to replace IBM are already underway.

"We definitely need to identify a different technology, a different hardware that will be used in this project," Barker said. "At this point exactly what that will be, because obviously we're really early on in that process. But it will be a pretty quick turnaround to identify a different technology that will be used."

Barker said she still believes Blue Waters has the same timeline, and should be operational by summer 2012.

She said NSCA entered a dispute resolution with IBM in April, but could not come to a resolution. She said this does not impact other projects on campus involving the computing giant. IBM will be returning the $30 million it has received to date for the project, and NCSA will return equipment delivered by IBM as part of the contract.

The project is funded by the National Science Foundation. An IBM spokeswoman couldn't be reached for comment.

Categories: Business, Education, Technology

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 08, 2011

Comcast Rolls Out Internet Plan for Low Income Households

Comcast has unveiled a program, known as "Internet Essentials," to expand Internet access for about $10 a month to low-income families.

The cable and Internet provider wants to make the program available next month in 39 states, including Illinois, where the company's Internet service is offered. Comcast spokesman Jack Segal said eligible families must have at least one child receiving free school lunches through the National School Lunch Program. He estimates that lunch program is open to more than 4,500 students in Champaign and Urbana.

"Internet access is the great equalizer," Segal said. "It's great for people economically to have access --- kids especially to have access to the internet to do their homework, to learn, to dream, and to really, really participate in the world."

To qualify for the program, customers must not have any overdue bills with the company or unreturned equipment. They also cannot join Comcast's Internet service 90 days prior to joining the program.

The low-income families who qualify can purchase vouchers for a new computer valued at around $150. They can also sign up for free digital literacy training.

This is not the only internet plan coming to Champaign-Urbana. Organizers of the UC2B Big Broadband project are hoping to get high-speed Internet in the area by Feb. 2013. The University of Illinois has taken the lead in getting the more than $22 million federal grant and a $3.5 million state grant to support the project, but it is leaving much of the work to the cities.

The high-speed Internet plan would costs about twice as much for customers compared to the Comcast program and run up to 10 times faster, according Mike Smeltzer, the principal investigator of UC2B's grant.

"Our connection will be massively fast," Smeltzer said. "I think (Comcast's plan) is kind of like training wheels for our project. If somebody doesn't have Internet today, and they look at this and they say, 'Hey, this would be good for our kids that are in school, and we can afford the 10 bucks a month, let's get it.' It will only wet their appetite for something better."

Smeltzer also praised Comcast's reduced-price service, saying it will help connect people in areas where the UC2B project won't be available.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Categories: Economics, Technology

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 08, 2011

C-U Buildings on Preservation Group’s ‘40 Over 40’ List

The restoration of the clock and bell tower at the Champaign County Courthouse in Urbana is one of 40 success stories that a statewide preservation group is highlighting to mark its 40th anniversary.

Landmarks Illinois isn't taking credit for the entire list of 40 landmarks across the state. Instead, the group's president, Jim Peters, says they show what can be done when people in local communities pull together to save a piece of their history.

In the case of the Champaign County Courthouse, Peters said the county and local donors were able to both preserve the crumbling brick walls of the courthouse --- and rebuild a clock and bell tower that had been shortened by lightning strikes.

"I think people for decades have been trying to get the (courthouse) building restored, and the long-missing tower put back," Peters said. "So we thought that was just an amazing effort. So that kind of --- you know, it was emblematic of that grassroots effort, that stick-to-it-ivness - figuring out they wanted to do something, and just kept at it until it was accomplished."

Champaign's Orpheum Theater is also on Landmarks Illinois' "40 Over 40" list. Local preservationists reopened the old movie house as a children's museum in the 1990s. Other landmarks on the list include the old Chicago Public Library (now a cultural center), the old city hall and fire station in Pontiac (now operating as the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum) and the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Dana-Thomas house in Springfield.

Peters said most of the preservation efforts have one thing in common--- strong community support.

"What we wanted to focus on were grassroots efforts: community-wide efforts to either save a building, restore a building --- in some cases, even move a building to keep it from being demolished," he said. "You know, a community, a neighborhood group or a city itself."

Landmarks Illinois was founded in 1971 as the Landmarks Preservation Council. Its first project was an unsuccessful effort to save the Louis Sullivan-designed Chicago Stock Exchange Building. It claims the preservation of the old downtown Chicago Public Library building as the city's Cultural Center as its first major success. The group expanded its scope to cover Illinois in the late 1970s, and changed its name to Landmarks Illinois in 2006.

Peters said he hopes the "40 Over 40" list can inspire other communities to work to save their important historic buildings.

View a slideshow of some of the sites that made the list:

Categories: Architecture, History

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 08, 2011

Low Enrollment Leaves Empty EIU Dorms

When school starts at Eastern Illinois University later this month, several floors of a major campus dorm will be closed.

That's because enrollment at the campus in Charleston is down.

The Mattoon Journal Gazette and Charleston Times-Courier reports that eight of the 17 floors at Carman Hall will be empty and kept closed.

Mark Hudson is the director of university housing. He says university officials want to use resources efficiently while enrollment is down.

So far there's no word of layoffs.

The university's freshmen enrollment dropped by approximately 200 students in fall 2010 after declining by about 100 students the year before.

At EIU, only freshmen are required to live on campus. Classes start Aug. 17.

Categories: Education
Tags: education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 05, 2011

Mother and Daughter Killed in Central Ill. Home

Authorities say two women found dead early Friday in a rural central Illinois home were a mother and daughter.

Macon County Sheriff Thomas P. Schneider says 57-year-old Cindanett Eaton and 23-year-old Lindsey Eaton were found in their rural Harristown home after a 911 call about 12:45 a.m. Friday. The community is just west of Decatur.

Another woman whom Schneider says is also Cindanett Eaton's daughter is hospitalized with life-threatening injuries. The sheriff wouldn't identify her or discuss the nature of the women's injuries.

Schneider said 27-year-old Timothy Giles of Centralia has been arrested. Giles is being held on $2 million bond and has not appeared in court but his warrant lists murder, attempted murder, aggravated battery, domestic battery and home invasion charges.

Giles does not yet have an attorney.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 05, 2011

New UI Chancellor Defends Role on Nike Board

The University of Illinois' new chancellor maintains that her role as a member of Nike's Board of Directors doesn't represent a conflict of interest.

Both the University of Washington and the U of I hold contracts with the sportswear company. Phyllis Wise currently serves as provost at UW, and will start her role as chancellor at the U of I Oct. 1, pending Trustees' approval.

Wise's role with Nike has been a source of contention for Washington's Faculty Senate, which called for her to step down from the board post. Wise said she has put it in writing to UW that she would remove herself from any university business pertaining to Nike, and intends to do the same at the U of I.

"I have written a letter to the president, and then when I was the interim president, a letter to the Board of Regents, saying that anything having to do with Nike and the University of Washington, I would be recused from," she said. "In other words, I would have nothing to do with the discussion, or even knowledge about the issue."

But anthropology professor Janelle Taylor, president of the American Association of University Professors at UW, said that is not enough.

"How can you take a job as a major administrator at the university and then because you've also kind of accepted this big payoff with a company that has contracts then say 'I'm not going to do this big part of my job because it would be a conflict of interest,' Taylor said. "Personally, I don't find that a satisfactory answer. If I were at the University of Illinois, I'd want a better answer than that."

Wise was appointed to Nike's board of directors in fall of 2009. She said she has always given more money to philanthropic efforts than what she has earned as a board member of Nike. She added that a lot of that money has gone to higher education and student scholarships.

Wise said the Nike position has also helped her as an administrator.

"Everything that I've learned in terms of how they run their budgets and their finances, and with their overall mission of producing the best athletic apparel is something that I've learned about," she said. "I think some of it can be applied to what I do."

Wise's term with Nike is set to expire in September, when board members are elected or re-elected as part of the company's stockholders meeting. The U of I is in the middle of a $16 million,10-year contract with the sportswear provider.

Categories: Education

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