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. →
While Minnesota has made considerable strides in recent years toward adopting cleaner energy, an ad campaign starting today will target two of the state’s utilities for their reliance on coal.
The Sierra Club will begin airing two television commercials on 23 cable stations calling for Xcel Energy and Minnesota Power to reduce their use of coal over the next 15 years.
Both ads charges that Minnesotans pay $420 million a for out-of-state coal, based on government and Union of Concerned Scientists data, for electricity instead of using renewable resources such as wind and solar. →
People with respiratory problems who live and play along Minnesota’s North Shore may find breathing a little easier in the future.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has come to an agreement with Minnesota Power on a timeline to update a sulfur dioxide (SO2) air pollution permit for Taconite Harbor Energy Center in Schroeder.
The plant is a hard-to-miss landmark along scenic Highway 61, a popular route for summer tourists. It sprawls along Lake Superior near a town of barely 200 people and a popular resort.
The move is a result of a settlement with Fresh Energy, the Minnesota chapter of the Sierra Club and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (all members of RE-AMP, which publishes Midwest Energy News) over emissions at the 225 megawatt coal-fired plant. The agency also received a letter in December from concerned citizens, physicians and faith and environmental groups.
The initial permit is more than a decade old and had not included a higher SO2 standard issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010. →
A proposal from FirstEnergy would guarantee income for the Davis-Besse nuclear plant and other facilities. (Photo by AlienCG via Creative Commons)
As FirstEnergy awaits a decision on its proposed electric security plan after a similar proposal from American Electric Power (AEP) was rejected by regulators last month, broader themes about Ohio’s energy future are emerging in the debate.
The plan recommended by FirstEnergy would have Ohio electricity consumers pay for operating costs of what critics deem two inefficient power plants; the Davis-Besse nuclear plant near Toledo and the W.H. Sammis coal-fired plant FirstEnergy operates on the Ohio River. An evidentiary hearing on the FirstEnergy proposal is scheduled to be held at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) offices on April 13.
The PUCO ruled last month that AEP’s similar proposal failed to promote rate stability or overwhelmingly prove that it was in the public interest. Opponents of FirstEnergy’s plan, who have characterized the proposals as “bailouts,” believe it should meet a similar fate. →
Two months after his inauguration, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has made national headlines for his aggressive efforts to get the state’s budget crisis under control.
Energy and related environment issues have so far taken a back seat, but experts and advocates are watching closely for signs of what the new Republican gubernatorial administration will mean on that front.
Rauner’s draft budget released in February raised serious concerns that money for state energy efficiency and renewable energy projects will be cut and swept into the state’s general fund, as Midwest Energy News reported.
Rauner’s transition report released in January expressed support for a diverse energy mix including renewables, natural gas from hydraulic fracturing (fracking), nuclear and also “clean” coal. It specifically pledged support for energy efficiency, though the draft budget has cast doubts on that commitment. →
Critics are raising conflict-of-interest questions about a report warning about reliability risks from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan.
The November 2014 report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) claims that putting the EPA’s plan into action could cause instability in the nation’s electric grid, increasing the risks for blackouts.
If anything, FirstEnergy’s problems have only gotten worse since we issued our report:
FirstEnergy’s net income (revenues less expenses) continues to decline. Here’s the spiral: From $869 million in 2011 to $392 million in 2013 to $299 million in 2014.
Its earnings per share fell to its lowest point in a decade. Earnings per share in 2014 were $0.51, down from $0.90 in 2013.
Its long-term debt, already among the highest in the utility industry, increased from $15.8 billion in 2013 to $19.2 billion in 2014, and on its fourth-quarter earnings call, the company’s chief financial officer conceded that the parent holding company is carrying more debt than “we are comfortable with.”
While Ohio regulators last week rejected one utility’s plan to guarantee income for its power plants – characterized by critics as a “bailout” – the decision left the door open for similar proposals in the future.
Meanwhile, protective orders will continue to prevent public disclosure of all the facts and figures behind the plans proposed by utilities.
Last Wednesday the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) rejected a proposal by American Electric Power (AEP) that would have guaranteed sales for AEP’s share of all electricity from two coal plants owned by the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation. All ratepayers would have had to cover the costs of that plan, whether they chose AEP for their electricity generation company or not.
AEP claimed the plan would give ratepayers a hedge against long-term inflation. It described its plan as a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).
Environmental and consumer advocates have said the plans would impose huge immediate costs on ratepayers with the likelihood of large long-term net losses as well. →
The Walter C. Beckjord power plant in Ohio is one of many that have shut down rather than meet pollution rules. (Photo by Brett Ciccotelli via Creative Commons)
A case currently before the Supreme Court could decide whether coal-fired power plants can escape federal rules for mercury and other hazardous air emissions. The case has important consequences for Ohio and other parts of the Midwest.
On the one hand, utilities and other challengers argue that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unreasonably failed to consider costs in determining whether the regulations are appropriate.
On the other hand, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the new rules can save tens of billions of dollars in human health costs each year.
Advocates say those amounts and other costs shifted to society are essentially a subsidy for coal-powered electricity. →
Transmission lines near Canton, Michigan. (Photo by Fred Locklear via Creative Commons)
Michigan’s Lower Peninsula faces a 3 GW electric capacity shortfall next year. But energy experts say that doesn’t mean the state needs to rush into building 3 GW worth of new generation.
Doing so, some argue, could actually put Michigan in an even worse position in the future.
The capacity shortfall — which is projected by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) to grow as coal plants are retired to meet federal emission rules — may also present opportunities for the state to restructure its energy system to encourage demand-side solutions, driving down the need for new generation.
While details about energy supply and demand may sound esoteric to average ratepayers, the issue is on the radar of lawmakers in Lansing this year. State officials say that reliability concerns in the Upper Peninsula due to uncertainty over an aging coal plant serve as a warning to the rest of the state about how average ratepayers could be impacted without proper planning for the future. →
Ohio regulators delay decision on income guarantees for power plants • More than half of U.S. frac sand came from Wisconsin last year • Illinois attorney general accuses utility of manipulating markets • Xcel pursues significant fixed-charge increase in Wisconsin