While cars and habitat loss kill more birds than electric infrastructure, utilities are taking steps to reduce the risk. (Photo by Jan Arendtsz)
A century ago, the newly emerging electrical grid’s impact on birds and other wildlife was far from anyone’s mind.
Generating and transporting electricity was still a fairly new and urgent challenge, and the concept of protecting wildlife and natural resources was foreign to most people.
A lot has changed since then, says Ameren Illinois Avian Protection Program Director Riley Adams. The Illinois utility is among many working to reduce and mitigate the electrocution deaths of eagles, hawks and other wildlife on utility poles and infrastructure.
Many cities, like Asheville, North Carolina, used federal stimulus funds to install LED streetlights. (Photo via City of Asheville)
A federal infusion of energy efficiency and conservation funds to cities, counties and tribal governments under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was a smashing success, according to a recent report released by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
The report, released February 27, also bemoans the fact that the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program funded by the federal stimulus was not renewed, and since then local partnerships with the federal government on efficiency and renewable energy projects have plummeted.
The EECBG was created by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, based on the community development block grants awarded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. About a year after the EECBG was created, it was funded by Congress under the stimulus program.
After being funded, the EECBG provided $2.7 billion for energy efficiency and conservation initiatives to cities larger than 35,000 people, counties larger than 200,000 and tribal governments, along with giving money to states to distribute to municipalities. Also as part of the stimulus the U.S. Department of Energy awarded another $400 million for energy efficiency and conservation projects.
(Photo by Damian Gadal via Creative Commons)
In deregulated Midwestern states, many residential customers and whole towns and cities – through municipal aggregation – are now able to choose an electricity supplier other than their utility.
Shopping around for an alternative natural gas supplier, however, is much less common, and many customers likely don’t know they have the option to switch gas suppliers even years after deregulation laws made it possible.
Alternative gas suppliers and energy marketplace companies – like ChooseEnergy, which launched its residential natural gas switching services in Illinois and Ohio recently – say that consumers can save money by shopping around for a gas plan.
Some consumer advocates and energy experts, meanwhile, say that differences between the gas and electricity sectors mean that customers have much less to gain by switching to an alternative gas supplier. In fact an analysis by the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) in Illinois shows that a great majority – 88 percent – of customers have actually lost money by switching natural gas plans.
Thomas Frank, Judy Hicks, Kim Rodriguez and Darryl Harris are not happy with their neighbor – the BP Whiting refinery. (Photo by Kari Lydersen / Midwest Energy News)
In Chicago, anger about petroleum coke storage along the Calumet River has been aimed largely at KCBX, the subsidiary of Koch Industries that operates the facilities.
Meanwhile, the BP oil refinery that creates the petcoke across the border in Whiting, Indiana has maintained a relatively low profile.
On Wednesday, during a quarterly community meeting at the Whiting public library, BP had planned to roll out its new air emissions monitoring system. But the meeting also turned into a forum for neighbors to air issues ranging from petcoke to BP’s plans to demolish homes in the area.
As more customers switch to high-efficiency lighting, utilities are having to look elsewhere to meet energy conservation mandates. (Photo by Dan McKay via Creative Commons)
What happens when the “low-hanging fruit” of energy efficiency runs out?
Illinois is about to find out.
After years of heavy reliance on lighting upgrades and other programs, the state’s two largest utilities, Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) and Ameren Illinois, are now coming up short on meeting state-mandated efficiency goals.
However, Illinois Commerce Commission orders released last month show there are still plenty of opportunities to further cut energy consumption, according to clean energy advocates who are part of the stakeholder group involved in the proceedings.
(Photo by Guy Monty via Creative Commons)
New federal rules that offer 30-year “take” permits under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act have been described by wind energy opponents and some prominent conservationists as a license to “slaughter” the very symbol of America.
Wind energy advocates, on the other hand, say the rules provide necessary certainty for developers, who were made uneasy by a recent $1 million settlement between the federal government and Duke Energy Renewables over violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), which also protects bald and golden eagles.
In that case, Duke pleaded guilty to charges that 14 golden eagles and 149 other birds were killed at two Wyoming wind farms, and that developers should have known the wind farms were built in a way that endangered birds.
Meanwhile, wildlife groups that support wind power are in a tight spot. Audubon, the nation’s premier bird conservation group, is firmly against the 30-year permits.
“It’s a blank check for the industry, it’s an eagle-killing rule,” said Audubon director of national programs Mike Daulton. “They put in place a new rule that really does nothing for conservation. It just gives the industry 30 years of protection from prosecution under the law. We think it was a weak law done secretively and we think it will lead to more dead eagles.”
Petroleum coke piles along the Calumet River in Chicago in October. (Photo by Josh Mogerman via Creative Commons)
Representatives of Illinois’s coal, oil and gas, chemical, shipping and other industries on Wednesday denounced Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed emergency rules regarding the storage of petcoke – a byproduct of tar sands refining that is sold as fuel mostly to overseas customers.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency filed the proposed rules on January 16, and after an weeklong public comment period the Illinois Pollution Control Board will decide whether to adopt the rules. (UPDATE: The board rejected the rules on Thursday.)
On a press conference call, industry representatives blasted Quinn for invoking an emergency rulemaking process when they contend there is no emergency.
Coal being shipped by barge on the Ohio River near Derby, Indiana. (Photo by Cathy Haglund via Creative Commons)
While coal use has declined in recent years, most states are still spending billions to import the fuel for electricity generation, according to a new study.
Thirty-seven states spent $19.4 billion in 2012 importing 433 million tons of coal from other states and other countries, according to the report, “Burning Coal, Burning Cash,” released this week by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The study, an update to a comprehensive 2010 investigation by the UCS, shows that between 2008 and 2012 coal imports actually dropped significantly – especially from other countries — because of the shift to natural gas and wind as power sources and also due to flat-lining power demand.
Main Street in Vienna, Johnson County, Illinois where voters will decide on an anti-fracking ballot measure this spring. (Photo by J. Stephen Conn via Creative Commons)
“Shall the people’s right to local self-government be asserted by Johnson County to ban corporate fracking as a violation of their rights to health, safety and a clean environment?”
The question, which will show up on the March primary ballot in the southern Illinois county, is an example of an increasingly popular tactic among fracking opponents: trying to assert local control over a practice that in most cases is not specifically addressed by federal or state laws.
The move is especially significant in Illinois, where state regulators are refining fracking rules that critics say are way too lenient.
On December 3, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources closed its 50-day public comment period on the proposed state regulations. The agency received more than 20,000 comments, the bulk of them reportedly opposed to the regulations or to fracking as a whole.
Southeast Chicago residents packed a hearing on the city’s petcoke piles on Monday night. (Photo by Kari Lydersen / Midwest Energy News)
Chicago elected officials have vowed to crack down on the growing piles of petcoke stored by a subsidiary of Koch Industries and another company along the Calumet River on the city’s far southeast side.
But at a public hearing Monday night, local residents made clear that they don’t trust the City Council or Mayor Rahm Emanuel to take meaningful action on the issue.
They think the city’s proposed storage regulations – crafted by the public health department at the mayor’s behest — would allow piles of petcoke to keep growing and polluting in their neighborhood.
Alderman John Pope, who represents the Chicago neighborhoods most affected, and Ed Burke, a powerful alderman with an interest in clean air, have proposed two ordinances related to petcoke. One favored by Burke would ban petcoke storage in Chicago. The other, pushed by Pope, would impose site-specific regulations.
Emanuel last month rejected the idea of a citywide ban on petcoke storage, saying a state or federal solution is needed. On Monday, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn proposed emergency rules on petcoke storage statewide.
The proposed city rules would cover storage of solid bulk materials including petcoke, coal, ore and other materials used as fuel. Piles of salt, construction and demolition debris, waste and recycling material would not be subject to the regulations.