Illinois lawmakers declare war on Wyoming ‘garbage coal’

(Photo by Aaron Hockley via Creative Commons)

(Photo by Aaron Hockley via Creative Commons)

©2015 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeffrey Tomich

A pair of southern Illinois lawmakers are declaring war on coal — specifically, the kind hauled hundreds of miles by rail from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.

Democratic Sen. Andy Manar and Republican Rep. John Bradley are leading a group of southern Illinois legislators who want the state’s power plants burning locally mined coal, a fuel source that fell out of favor a quarter-century ago with new environmental rules targeting acid rain.

The lawmakers have yet to provide specifics about the bill, expected to be filed in the coming days. But at a news conference at the Capitol in Springfield last week, they said the measure would be aimed at generating jobs and revenue for the state and could even help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Whatever is proposed will only complicate an already high-stakes energy debate in the Land of Lincoln — a debate that so far has focused on Exelon Corp.’s nuclear fleet and efforts by clean energy advocates to stimulate more renewable energy and energy efficiency.

But the state’s coal industry remains the elephant in the room.

Exelon: ‘We have to have an answer’ on nuclear plants

Exelon's Byron Generating Station in Illinois. (Photo by Michael Kappel via Creative Commons)

Exelon’s Byron Generating Station in Illinois. (Photo by Michael Kappel via Creative Commons)

©2015 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeffrey Tomich

An Exelon Corp. executive told Illinois legislators Wednesday that the fate of three unprofitable nuclear plants in the state will be decided later this summer and that action on a bill to help them survive must be passed before the General Assembly adjourns a month from now.

The comments followed criticism of the bill to create a low-carbon portfolio standard by the Illinois attorney general’s office, which categorized the bill as an unnecessary bailout that would benefit a single company at the expense of consumers across the state.

At the very least, Cara Hendrickson of the AG’s office said, the Legislature should wait until after this summer’s PJM Interconnection capacity auction to see whether two of the at-risk nuclear plants located in PJM’s footprint clear and how much in additional revenue they bring in.

“At the end of the day, the choice is whether to save the plants or not,” said Joe Dominguez, Exelon’s executive vice president of governmental and regulatory affairs and public policy.

Illinois lawmakers question MISO about capacity auction

(Photo by Michael Kappel via Creative Commons)

(Photo by Michael Kappel via Creative Commons)

©2015 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeffrey Tomich

Illinois officials searching for answers about the spike in generation capacity prices in the southern half of the state went straight to the source during a legislative hearing Monday.

Melissa Seymour, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator’s central region executive, appeared before an Illinois Senate committee Monday afternoon. The topic of the hearing was supposed to be overview of regional transmission and wholesale power markets. But questions quickly zeroed in on MISO’s recent auction.

Seymour told committee members that the tenfold increase in capacity prices from last year was driven by the fact that more capacity was procured through the auction instead of private negotiations.

Capacity auction results were “not a result of a lack of supply here in Illinois,” she said, noting there was more than 11,000 megawatts of generation bid in to supply 10,000 MW of demand. “It was a function of how load-serving entities will be meeting their obligations.”

Bakken pipeline meets stiff opposition in Minnesota

Opponents of Enbridge’s Sandpiper Pipeline are challenging the project through administrative and legal channels as well as through demonstrations and public displays along the pipeline’s route through rural Minnesota. Photo by Daniel Cusick

Opponents of Enbridge’s Sandpiper Pipeline are challenging the project through administrative and legal channels as well as through demonstrations and public displays along the pipeline’s route through rural Minnesota. (Photo by Daniel Cusick/EnergyWire)

©2015 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Daniel Cusick

MINNEAPOLIS — A Canadian company proposes a multibillion-dollar oil pipeline through some of the Midwest’s prized lakes and wetlands, igniting a firestorm among environmentalists, tribes and anti-fossil fuel activists who say the proposal is built on hollow promises of economic development and dubious claims of environmental protection.

Sound familiar? It should. But the pipeline isn’t Keystone XL, and its developer is not TransCanada Corp., purveyor of the most polarizing energy project since the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository.

It is called Sandpiper, and its developer is Enbridge Corp., another Calgary, Alberta-based conglomerate whose extensive oil and gas pipeline network plunges deep into the U.S. interior.

States to FERC: Clean Power Plan too much, too fast

(Photo by Mark via Creative Commons)

(Photo by Mark via Creative Commons)

©2015 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeffrey Tomich

ST. LOUIS — The changes in power plant fleets that will be required by U.S. EPA’s Clean Power plan are too much, too fast, and threaten electric affordability and reliability, a group of utilities and state regulators from up and down the nation’s central corridor said here Tuesday.

The comments came during the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s final regional hearing on implementation of the proposed rule, which calls for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants by 30 percent over the next 15 years.

Most concerns aired during the all-day meeting echo those made in formal comments to EPA and in previous FERC sessions. Regulators from Texas, Indiana and North Dakota — all of which are plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the rule — reiterated their sharp disagreement with the Obama administration’s plan to slash power plant greenhouse gas emissions.

Ohio regulators tell lawmakers not to interfere on carbon rule

©2015 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Rod Kuckro

Despite Ohio’s antipathy toward U.S. EPA’s proposed Clean Power plan, under no circumstances do state regulators want the General Assembly to pass any law that would interfere with eventual compliance.

“We do not think that the plan is legal, and we have mounted a legal challenge,” said Asim Haque, vice chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. “This is in fact an energy policy.”

The PUCO, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Gov. John Kasich and Attorney General Mike DeWine “are all on the same page,” he said.

“However, we want to be as constructive in shaping the final rule as possible,” he said in an interview yesterday in Washington, D.C.

Ohio towns play wait-and-see in wake of drilling ruling

©2015 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Ellen M. Gilmer and Mike Lee

Almost three weeks after Ohio’s top court struck down a town’s restrictive drilling ordinances, lawyers and local officials are predicting another round of court cases to settle how much control local governments have over oil and gas development.

The state Supreme Court ruled that the Akron-area town of Munroe Falls could not require Beck Energy Corp. to get separate drilling permits, finding that only the state can issue drilling permits. But it left open whether cities can use zoning to control where drilling happens, and whether the outright drilling bans in some towns can continue to stand.

In the weeks following the highly anticipated decision, attorneys have rushed to interpret how and when that issue will be decided. Will Ohio follow in the footsteps of New York and Pennsylvania, which have preserved some local powers over drilling; follow Colorado and Texas, which have taken a harder line; or chart a new path?

Groups propose community solar program for Illinois

©2015 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeffrey Tomich

A national environmental advocate and a utility watchdog group are teaming up on energy policy in Illinois — this time proposing a community solar pilot program with an eye toward making it more widely available by the end of the decade.

The proposal to the Illinois Commerce Commission, filed Monday by the Citizens Utility Board and Environmental Defense Fund, would enable development of four to five community solar energy systems of up to 2 megawatts each.

Exelon seeks low-carbon standard to help Illinois plants

The Byron nuclear plant in Illinois (Photo by Michael Kappal via Creative Commons)

The Byron nuclear plant in Illinois (Photo by Michael Kappal via Creative Commons)

©2015 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeffrey Tomich

Illinois legislators within days are expected to propose a low-carbon energy standard aimed at helping prop up Exelon Corp.’s fleet of six nuclear plants, three of which have struggled to remain profitable in recent years.

The bill could be filed before the end of the week and would require 70 percent of electricity used in territories served by the state’s two large investor-owned utilities to come from low-carbon sources of generation, according to a summary of the legislation circulated at the state Capitol earlier this week.

The two-page fact sheet notes that a low-carbon portfolio standard was one of five policy options cited in a January report from state agencies examining the impact of the premature closure of one or more of the Exelon nuclear plants. The report was a fact-finding effort and made no recommendations (EnergyWire, Jan. 8).

The measure would represent the second major energy proposal put before the General Assembly so far this year and sets the stage for interesting debates and negotiations concerning how the state cuts greenhouse gas emissions.

Last week, a group of legislators filed a measure pushed by environmental and clean energy advocates that would expand the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards and establish a carbon market to help the state comply with U.S. EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan (EnergyWire, Feb. 20).

Exelon has signaled for more than a year that it would seek some type of legislation to aid its Illinois nuclear fleet. The company has warned that it may close as many as three of its six plants unless it sees a “path to sustainable profits.” The plants in jeopardy — Byron, Clinton and Quad Cities — have faced financial headwinds because of weak wholesale power prices brought on by competition from natural gas and wind.

Company officials have lobbied throughout the state and in Washington that closing plants prematurely would make it more difficult for the state to meet its carbon reduction goals under the Clean Power Plan.

As recently as last week, Exelon Senior Vice President Kathleen Barrón testified before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission about flaws the company sees in EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

“The [low-carbon portfolio standard] in Illinois would act, at a minimum, as a bridge solution that would facilitate further policy actions that may be required for compliance with the EPA,” the Illinois legislative summary said.

Paul Elsberg, an Exelon spokesman, wouldn’t confirm the details or timing of the company’s legislative proposal. “We expect that legislation will be introduced in coming weeks, and we will have more to say when that occurs,” he said in an emailed statement.

It is also not yet known which Illinois legislators would sponsor the bill. William Von Hoene Jr., Exelon’s chief strategy officer, told analysts and investors earlier this month that the measure would have broad bipartisan support (EnergyWire, Feb. 17).

Von Hoene and other officials at Chicago-based Exelon have repeatedly insisted that they are not seeking a “bailout” of the Illinois nuclear fleet and want only a “market-based” solution that recognizes existing nuclear plants as a reliable, low-carbon generation source and a major employer in the state.

Those who had viewed the brief summary of the Exelon bill said they are withholding judgment until more specifics are available.

“The devil is most certainly going to be in the details,” said Nick Magrisso, a policy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a member of the recently formed Clean Jobs Coalition (EnergyWire, Feb. 6).

How it would work

The Exelon proposal would work similarly to how the state’s existing renewable energy standard is supposed to work.

The state’s two large investor-owned utilities, Commonwealth Edison and Ameren Corp., would be required to buy a percentage of their energy from a low-carbon source and collect a charge through retail distribution bills to pay for the low-carbon energy credits.

Similar to Illinois’ renewable portfolio standard, electric cooperatives and municipal utilities wouldn’t be subject to the requirement.

The Illinois Power Agency, a state office formed to procure electricity for ComEd and Ameren in the state’s restructured retail electric market, would conduct a competitive procurement for low-carbon energy credits each year in the same way it purchases renewable energy resources. Like a renewable energy credit, a low-carbon credit would be a traceable credit that represents the environmental attributes of 1 megawatt of energy from a low-carbon source.

The legislative summary said low-carbon energy sources such as nuclear, renewables and coal-fueled plants that capture and sequester greenhouse gas emissions would “compete against each other on a best price basis to supply the low carbon energy credits.”

Beside the 2 percent rate cap, the legislation would have a rebate provision that would provide a bill credit to consumers in the event that wholesale prices exceeded a specified level.

The measure will also include a sunset provision effective Dec. 31, 2021, or the effective date of a market-based plan to cut carbon emissions under the Clean Power Plan.

NRDC’s Magrisso said the energy legislation introduced last week, by contrast, would set in motion a long-term transformation of the state’s electricity market and provide a statewide economic stimulus.

“The bill that we’re introducing is a comprehensive long-term solution that’s going to offer thousands of clean energy jobs across the state,” he said.

Bill to support Illinois nuclear plants expected by March

©2015 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeffrey Tomich

Illinois legislators will file a widely anticipated bill within the next month aimed at giving a financial lift to Exelon Corp.’s fleet of six nuclear reactors in the state, the nuclear giant said Friday.

William A. Von Hoene Jr., Exelon’s chief strategy officer, told analysts and investors during the company’s fourth-quarter conference call that company officials are working with legislators to draft the measure, which should have broad support.

“We anticipate Republican and Democratic sponsors in significant numbers,” Von Hoene said.