A cask of nuclear waste is loaded onto a truck at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. (Photo via ANL)
A proposal in the U.S. Senate has advocates concerned that Illinois could become a leading contender for storing nuclear waste from around the nation.
The discussion draft of a Senate bill released April 25 and open for public comment until May 24 launches a process to create a “centralized interim storage” site (CIS) for nuclear waste that is currently stored at reactors nationwide.
And a June 2012 study [PDF] by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory using spatial modeling suggests that northern Illinois would be among the top possibilities.
Many nuclear energy critics oppose the concept of centralized interim storage, saying that the long-distance transport of nuclear waste to such sites would pose serious risks, and that interim storage sites could become financial and safety burdens especially if a long-term waste repository is never created.
Environmentalists say Maumee Bay, near Toledo, would have been a better target for FirstEnergy conservation work. (Photo by rayb777 via Creative Commons)
When power plant operators commit pollution violations, they are often required by the Environmental Protection Agency to do mitigation work on environmentally sensitive lands.
Critics, however, say vague rules often let the violators choose projects based on convenience, rather than impact.
In 2007, oil leaked from a storage tank at FirstEnergy’s Bayshore power plant on the shore of Maumee Bay, on the western edge of Lake Erie near Toledo. The company said about five gallons of oil made it into Lake Erie.
A Clean Water Act settlement related to that and two other small oil spills at FirstEnergy plants means that the company will pay a $125,000 fine and donate 200 acres of wetlands along Lake Erie in northeast Ohio to a land conservancy.
The land targeted is about 60 miles from two of the plants that had the oil spills, in Cleveland and Lorain. And it’s more than 150 miles from Bayshore.
A worker installs solar panels at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in 2012. (Photo by NAIT via Creative Commons)
For many people, checking out online reviews is a standard step before selecting a restaurant, hotel, spa, mechanic, even a hospital or place to buy a pet.
The sprawling review website Yelp has been one of the main places where people looking to install solar systems vet or search for companies; and many solar companies have felt compelled to list their services there.
But the founders of SolarReviews, launched in November, think they can offer a more specialized and more valuable option, with reviews of solar products and services in a variety of categories, curated by staff with industry experience and also offering free quotes online.
In February, Lakewood, Colorado-based SolarReviews acquired Solar-Estimate.org, which provides free estimates on the finances of wind, solar PV or other solar systems based on where people live, their energy use and type of building.
“There are other online directories of solar companies, but there are no other sites who are focused on customer reviews,” said Jesse Truax, SolarReviews co-founder and vice president of marketing and business development. “Up until this point, solar installers have had to rely on a hodgepodge of reviews websites to promote their customer reviews, although none of them were optimal for the solar industry.
Workers install solar panels on the roof of the Maj. Gen. Emmett J. Bean Federal Center near Indianapolis in 2011. (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Alan Petersime)
Indianapolis is seeing a boom in solar development, with at least three major solar farms in the works, numerous other significant solar projects proposed and a city initiative to create installations on municipal sites.
March 15 was the groundbreaking of a 12 MW solar farm at the Indianapolis International Airport that is slated for completion by end of the year and billed as the largest airport solar farm in the country; meanwhile another 10 MW solar farm at the airport is also planned. A solar farm of up to 9.6 MW is planned at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
A 30 MW solar farm planned for the south side of the city, developed by Minnesota-based Sunrise Energy Ventures LLC, is expected to begin construction this summer and be operating by 2014, as the largest such farm in the Midwest. And the city has a program underway to lease space on the rooftops and grounds of public buildings to solar developers for 10-year contracts, after which point the city might buy the solar panels.
The airport installations are among numerous proposed and in-the-works projects aided by a voluntary feed-in tariff (VFIT) that Indianapolis Power and Light Company (IPL) launched in March 2010, offering to pay above-market rates to producers of solar energy.
But solar advocates fear the nascent boom could be stalled in its tracks, since the VFIT was a three-year pilot program that expired at the end of March. Clean energy backers are asking IPL to renew the VFIT and also to allow projects on a “waiting list” that were not approved during the program timeline to replace any approved projects that don’t end up happening.
David Wilhelm made his name as a political strategist managing campaigns for President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, among others. In 1993 he was the youngest ever chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Now Wilhelm has turned his focus to renewable energy investment, particularly in economically distressed areas like his native Ohio. He is a driving force behind Turning Point Solar, a 50 MW solar farm proposed in southeastern Ohio, on the site of a reclaimed strip mine.
Wilhelm’s firm, New Harvest Ventures, initially planned to develop the project with AEP Ohio, but in January Ohio’s Public Utilities Commission denied AEP’s request to pass the cost of the project on to ratepayers, leaving the power company no way to pay for the $130 million project. The Columbus Dispatch declared the project “all but dead” in January.
Now the developers are seeking other buyers for power and renewable energy credits from the solar farm, and Wilhelm said he is still confident it will come to fruition. Wilhelm is a board member of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, and spoke on a panel in Chicago on Wednesday celebrating the organization’s 20th anniversary.
Solar panels installed by Eagle Point Solar atop Dubuque’s municipal building. (Photo courtesy Eagle Point Solar)
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include a response from Alliant Energy.
An Iowa district court ruling March 29 could be a “landmark decision” for solar development in the state, in Eagle Point Solar President Barry Shear’s words, by allowing the company to sell electricity directly to the Dubuque city government to power the municipal building where the panels are located.
Previously, the Iowa Utility Board had prohibited Eagle Point from selling electricity to Dubuque from the rooftop installation. The utility board ruling came after the local utility, Alliant Energy, had complained to the Dubuque City Council in summer 2011 that the then-in-the-works project violated their exclusive right to provide electricity to the city.
The utility argued that Eagle Point would be acting as a utility and encroaching on Alliant’s monopoly territory by selling electricity from its panels to power the building. The Utility Board agreed with Alliant in a March 2012 ruling.
But the Polk County District Court found that Eagle Point would not be acting as a utility, so the company can sign what is known as a third-party power purchase agreement (PPA) with Dubuque to sell the city electricity from the panels, which are owned by an investor and managed by Eagle Point.
Experts consider the ruling crucial to the development of solar installations on the rooftops or grounds of city buildings, universities, churches, hospitals and other non-profit institutions in Iowa.
State Line power plant. (Photo by Eric Allix Rogers via Creative Commons)
A recent Environmental Protection Agency settlement seals the fate of a Chicago-area coal plant that’s already been shut down for more than a year, but residents will see additional benefits from other provisions.
The consent decree announced by the EPA April 1 mandates that Dominion Energy “permanently retire” the State Line power plant on the Illinois-Indiana border and install pollution controls on another coal-fired plant in Kincaid, central Illinois.
However, State Line has actually been closed since March 2012, because of competition from cheap natural gas and the impending cost of pollution controls required to meet new federal environmental regulations. There was never any indication it would reopen, and last summer it was sold to a Texas company that specializes in demolishing power plants.
But residents of northwest Indiana and the Chicago area should theoretically still see some improvement in local air quality, thanks to mitigation requirements in the consent decree that mandate Dominion fund investments to reduce diesel emissions from rail yards, trucks and buses in the Chicago area.
A rendering of a SkySpecs unmanned aircraft, which developers say can help with maintenance of wind turbines and other hard-to-reach places. (Photo via SkySpecs)
While the initial sheen of the clean tech industry may have worn off for investors, that’s not necessarily bad news.
At the Clean Energy Challenge last week in Chicago, experts including venture capitalist Ira Ehrenpreis and U.S. Department of Energy official Dr. David Danielson acknowledged the challenges and dropping investment clean tech has faced in the past year, due in part to the economy and political maneuvering.
But they indicated that while there is less giddiness over the sector, it is moving into a more mature phase that could result in important breakthroughs in batteries and other technology.
The Waukegan power plant in Illinois. (Photo by ribarnica via Creative Commons)
The Illinois Pollution Control Board on Thursday granted Midwest Generation two extra years to meet a state multi-pollutant standard that would require they install emissions controls on their four Illinois plants by 2015 and 2016.
At a January public hearing in the suburb of Joliet, officials with Midwest Generation and its parent company Edison Mission Energy told the board that the company – which is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings – does not have the financial means to make the required upgrades by the deadlines.
Environmental leaders and many local residents told the board that the state should not allow Midwest Generation to delay controls for financial reasons, and that they feared the company did not actually plan to install pollution controls but just wanted to run the plants longer before closing them.
A coal shipping terminal in Illinois. (Photo by findoffenseinreason via Creative Commons)
Even as coal-fired power plants are closing nationwide, the coal industry is still very much alive — and facing environmental scrutiny — in Illinois mining country.
Mining companies are seeking to expand their harvesting of Illinois Basin coal, which is much cheaper than dwindling Appalachian reserves and closer to Midwest and East Coast power plants than Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.
As mine operators seek permits for expanded and new operations, environmental groups are calling on the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to reform its mine permitting process. They say that the current process doesn’t do enough to limit operators with histories of violations, and forces taxpayers rather than the companies to foot most of the cost of the permitting process.