Bill Poorman of Morton, Ill. speaks on Dec. 17, 2013 in Decatur during a forum organized by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources on proposed rules for high-volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing.
(Sean Powers/WILL)
December 17, 2013

Meeting On Hydraulic Fracturing Attracts Hundreds In Decatur

Hundreds of people voiced their concerns about the process known as fracking during a meeting on Tuesday night in Decatur.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is reviewing new rules for high-volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing, and it is asking the public for feedback.

Many of the people who packed into the Decatur Civic Center were bused in by Illinois People's Action, a group that opposes fracking. Group member Bill Poorman lives right outside of Peoria, and he said the state’s fracking regulations need to include stricter penalties for companies that break the rules.

“If we want enforcement to matter at all, we must make it more expensive to break the law than it is to follow it,” Poorman said. “We have got to punch them in the profit margin.”

Others expressed concerns about the lack of local control in issuing permits, the dangers of chemicals used in the fracking process, and the heavy use of local water.

Ron Wojtanowski lives in the Bloomington-Normal area, and he blasted the department for not doing enough research before drafting its rules.

“If the governor and legislature were sincere about having the strictest rules in the nation, then (the Illinois Department of Natural Resources) violated their trust by drafting some of the weakest,” Wojtanowski said. “Again and again these rules pose significant hazard to public health, aquatic life, wildlife, and the environment.”

The vast majority of those who spoke Tuesday in Decatur oppose fracking.

Sherry Procarione lives right outside of Decatur. She was the only person to speak in support of fracking, and she said there is no need for additional rules.

“Here in Macon County, we have the highest unemployment rate in the state of Illinois,” Procarione said. “I think it sounds really reasonable to me for some folks if they want to make a private contract to do so.”

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources says it’ll likely revise its proposed regulations based on what it hears from the public.

The last of these meetings is Thursday in Carbondale, but the public can continue to comment online until Jan. 3.


A coalition lobbying for a fracking moratorium protested Illinois' pending legislation during the 2013 General Assembly session.
(Amanda Vinicky/IPR)
October 03, 2013

DNR Opens Fracking Registration

Illinois is a ways off from allowing oil and gas drillers to begin "fracking" but companies that are interested can begin the paperwork.

Environmentalists lost their fight to ban high-volume hydraulic fracturing. Lawmakers instead decided to open Illinois to a practice that's been an economic boon in other states.

Still - legislators say the law they passed to regulate fracking has the strongest safeguards in the nation. That includes a multi-step process before a company can use the method to access oil and gas deep underground. The first phase is underway, Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chris McCloud sad companies can now register.

"The point of clarification is: we're not at the point where we are starting to accept permit applications, we are merely giving companies the ability to register with us, which would then indicate their intent to at some point apply for a permit," he said.

McCloud said it is the permit that will detail where a company wants to "frack," and how deep they expect to drill. He noted that the public and legislators will have a chance to comment before rules for permits are put in place.


September 09, 2013

Entrepreneur Replaces Amish Buggy’s Horse With Solar Power

Travelling through Amish country, you're likely to see a horse-drawn carriage or two. One Sullivan entrepreneur has transformed the traditional buggy by giving it a touch of solar power.

Larry Yoder’s buggy has four solar panels attached to the roof, which pull in sunlight to power a motor. It goes about eight miles an hour in reverse and 14 forward. It can run about three hours without sunlight. Because this is green technology, Yoder chose green seats.

“Early one morning I thought I got this buggy, and I’ve got access to some solar panels. Why not make it solar-powered?” he said. “As far as I know, it’s the world’s first Amish solar-powered buggy.”

Yoder is not Amish, but used to own an Amish-style restaurant where customers could sit in an authentic buggy. A couple of years ago, after the restaurant closed, he upgraded the buggy with solar power – an idea he got after noticing the Amish using solar energy to power lights on their carriages.

“I’m not really targeting them to change their ways to eliminate a horse or nothing like that. That’s not my intent,” Yoder explained.

Though, Yoder said he believes the solar-powered buggy could catch on in the Amish community in the next five to ten years. Even though they are not currently buying it, he said some Amish business owners did help him build it.

And other communities have expressed interest.

Stella Eads is a tour guide in nearby Arthur, Ill., which has a large Amish population. She gives more than a hundred tours each year to people from all over the world who are interested in Arthur’s Amish community. She says the solar-powered carriage might someday be part of her tours.

“Well, I just envision having it here, close to the shop, and then whenever people want to go out on a tour, just take them out and show them around and give them a true Amish experience, as close as we can get without the horse,” she said.

Yoder said he would like to get his buggy to go faster, so that he can ride it more than a thousand miles away to Sarasota, Fla.

“That’s where we go in the winter time,” Yoder said during a ride in the carriage. “As you can hear going down the road it’s got a little wind to it. I got a GPS. I’ve got cruise control.”

Larry Yoder showing off an earlier prototype of his solar powered buggy..

Larry Yoder showing off an earlier prototype of his solar powered buggy. (Sean Powers/WILL)

Inside his garage, Yoder has other, earlier solar-powered prototypes. There is a carriage that does not look anything like the one from earlier. He started working on it six years ago. It has two 5 ½ foot giant wheels with LED lights mounted on the spokes, a seat for two people, and a tractor engine. This buggy goes eight miles per hour, but it seems much faster if you are spinning around in circles.

“Don’t try walking right now,” Yoder cautioned after giving it a test swirl.

Yoder said he is still perfecting his Amish buggy, and he said he hopes to make it widely available soon.

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August 23, 2013

Ameren Gets OK For Transmission Line In Illinois

State regulators have given Ameren permission to acquire the right-of-way to build a 380-mile-long transmission line across Illinois.

The Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises newspapers reports that Ameren Transmission received approval from the

Illinois Commerce Commission for section of Coles, Douglas, Moultrie and Piatt counties.  Regulators denied construction in certain areas, including larger substations in Mount Zion and Pana, and delayed action on a section of the line between Pana and Pawnee.

The high-voltage transmission line is planned to be 150-feet wide and run from Quincy to Terre Haute, Ind.

Regulators denied construction in certain areas and the St. Louis-based company says it is reviewing its options on routing those segments. Construction is scheduled to begin as early as 2014.

The line will have 80 to 90-foot tall poles on 12-foot wide concrete bases. The company says that's to allow landowners to use land for farming or grazing.


August 21, 2013

Ameren Unveils Smart Grid Research Center At U Of I

A new testing center unveiled Wednesday at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will give businesses the chance to test out smart grid technologies like household appliances, electric cars, and transformers.

Ameren Illinois said the Technology Applications Center, located west of the Research Park, includes a working substation, and a connection to the live grid. Ameren Illinois President and CEO Richard Mark said that is valuable for businesses.

“The uniqueness of this facility is that it can test the newest technology. Its fiber optically connected to the University of Illinois," Mark said. "They have several research things going on, so we can work together in collaboration with the university, and I don’t know of another one in the state that has these advanced technologies that this one has. ”

Speaking at the dedication ceremony, U of I Urbana Chancellor Phyllis Wise said the substation will help strengthen the university's smart grid research.

“As a research university, we’ve charged ourselves with thinking about what the world is going to be like 20-to-50 years from now, and what the role of a public research university is in solving those challenges,” Wise said. “I think the resiliency of our power supply is one that fits both in the challenges of the next 20-to-50 years, and what a public research university can do.”

Ameren Illinois said it will use the center to find ways of helping customers better manage their energy usage.

Ameren is spending more than $640 million over the next decade to make the electric grid more reliable and efficient, and create hundreds of new jobs. That is because of legislation passed two years ago by the General Assembly that allows utility companies to raise rates to finance those projects.


July 01, 2013

Thar He Blows: Trump Tussles With Scots Over Wind Turbines

A fierce legal battle is under way in Scotland, involving U.S. tycoon Donald Trump. At the heart of the wrangle: wind.

Europe is leading the way in generating energy using wind. Huge turbines whir away on the hills and in the seas throughout the continent.

The roots of Trump's hatred for these turbines can be found, at least in part, in what was once a stretch of rolling dunes and grassland in northeastern Scotland, overlooking the North Sea.

He is spending hundreds of millions creating a resort there.

Last year, he opened its star attraction, a championship golf links. Now, a second golf course is in the works.

"It will be truly spectacular, and truly beautiful, and the first course has become such a tremendous success," Trump said during a recent visit.

Yet there is one big problem: the proposed construction of some wind turbines — in the waters overlooked by Trump's resort.

"The Donald" is not happy.

"Wind farms are a disaster for the environment," he said. "They kill the birds. They are very expensive in terms of energy. They're made in China."

Trump was planning to put a big luxury hotel here, too.

Now he is threatening to change his mind.

"I will not build this hotel if they are going to build this ridiculous wind farm," Trump said. "Who would build a hotel where the windows are looking right into an industrial turbine?"

Scotland's Renewable Energy Play

Trump's resort is a few miles north of the city of Aberdeen. The area doesn't have the dazzling beauty of the Scottish Highlands — their dark hills, salmon rivers and whisky distilleries are just over the horizon.

Here, amid the beaches and harbors of Aberdeen Bay, the landscape has a subtler charm: an iron gray sea, rolling sand dunes with bursts of yellow gorse and stone houses dotting the horizon.

Trump opened the Trump International Championship Golf Links course last year. He says it will be one of the best in the world.

The wind turbines he so detests will be visible from the course, about a mile and a half out to sea.

Scotland's government gave the go-ahead for the wind project this March; Trump's counterattacked with a lawsuit seeking to have that decision overturned.

It may sound like an unremarkable zoning dispute. But much bigger issues are in play.

Next year, Scots vote in a referendum over whether to secede from the United Kingdom. Their government is semi-autonomous — much like a state in the U.S.

The Scottish Nationalists who are currently in office want full independence. Green energy is part of their vision. They aim to use renewables to generate the equivalent of all of Scotland's electricity consumption by the year 2020.

Wind power is a big part of that plan.

"That's a hugely ambitious target," says Lindsay Leask of Scottish Renewables, an industry organization for Scotland's renewable energy companies. "It is one of the most ambitious in Europe, if not the world."

There will be 11 big turbines in the waters off Trump's golf resort.

Trump calls it a wind farm, but Leask points out that it is, in fact, a testing facility for different construction methods and technology aspects of turbines and installation techniques.

The Swedish company Vattenfall heads up the joint venture, officially named the European Offshore Wind Deployment Center.

Leask says Scotland needs it.

"If it's not built, we would lose what could be a world-class testing facility and that would be a great shame," she says.

A Relentless Anti-Turbine Campaign

Trump is fighting for his cause with typical aggressiveness and flamboyance.

He wrote a tirade in a British newspaper calling Alex Salmond, head of Scotland's government, "mad."

He says Scotland is going to end up erecting thousands of wind turbines that'll have to be junked.

They're unreliable, highly inefficient and require heavy subsidies, he says.

Trump appeared before the Scottish parliament's energy committee last year with this warning.

"Scotland, if you pursue this goal, of these monsters all over Scotland, Scotland will go broke," Trump told parliamentarians. "As sure as you are sitting there, Scotland will go broke."

Patrick Harvie of the Green Party sits in Scotland's parliament. He thinks Scottish energy party is "none of Mr. Trump's business."

"[Trump] doesn't live here. He doesn't vote here. He doesn't have
a say," Harvie says.

He hopes Scotland sticks to its energy plan.

"If the Scottish government was to be distracted from that by, frankly, an arrogant bully like Mr. Trump, I think that would be a terrible
shame, a terrible opportunity wasted," Harvie says. "We should be pressing ahead with turning that renewable energy into reality."

Plenty of others share Trump's dislike of turbines, says Linda Holt, spokeswoman for Scotland Against Spin, an alliance of groups campaigning against Scotland's wind energy policy.

"I think there are tens of thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousands of people," Holt says. "I think in rural communities, they are so against them now there are hundreds of local groups who think the policy is ridiculous, is uneconomic, has gone far enough."

A Long Battle Ahead

Trump claims wind turbines kill sea mammals and thousands of birds. That's another reason he doesn't want turbines anywhere near his resort.

Lang Banks of the Scottish chapter of the World Wildlife Fund, says the project was carefully scrutinized by nature preservation groups and government planning officials before permission was granted.

"They have even changed the set-up and configuration of that site to make sure it causes the minimal amount of environmental impact," Banks says.

There's another twist: Vattenfall, the biggest investor in the wind-testing center offshore from Trump's resort, recently had a slump in profits. It is not pulling out of the project, but it is significantly reducing its stake.

During a recent inspection of his resort, Trump took heart from that development. He thinks it's a sign he'll get his way in the end.

"Vattenfall's already taken a pass. Whoever buys it is going to lose a tremendous amount of money," Trump said. "So nobody's going to buy it, and I don't see it getting built, so I think we are very close to having that thing abandoned."

Anyone who's seen The Apprentice on TV knows Trump's a tough adversary. He says he's willing to fight the lawsuit against the Scottish government for as long as it takes.

This worries Banks of the World Wildlife Fund.

"It is a real shame that taxpayers' money is going to have to be used to defend a case against Mr. Trump," Banks says. "It's a real shame that one man may undermine an entire nation's ability to do the right thing in terms of cutting emissions and creating jobs from cleaner energy sources."

Banks fears this legal fight will consume a lot of time. And in the battle against climate change, time is in short supply.

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