Ann Alexander is a Chicago-based senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Cross-posted from NRDC Switchboard
By Ann Alexander
We’ve been saying it till we’re blue in the face: fracking is not only already legal in Illinois but has now started up. And we’ve just confirmed new evidence of this fracking, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
What does this mean for Illinoisans? It means we need basic protections in place – yesterday – to limit environmental harm and give people a say in what could be happening right now in their communities. We need meaningful citizen participation in decision-making and enforcement, as well as rules governing how fracking is conducted.
And that’s why, if the moratorium is voted down despite our relentless efforts over the past year, we’d better put in place a law that gives people a fighting chance at protecting themselves. That is what NRDC has been working for, and what the regulatory bill will provide.
As for the proof of fracking starting up, take a look at this “well completion report” for a frack job performed last year. The report indicates that the Campbell Energy “Salem H-1” well in White County was a horizontal frack that used a total of 640,151 gallons of fluid. If that’s not high-volume horizontal fracking, then there’s no such thing.
Mendota Hills Wind Farm, Illinois. (Photo by Ron Zack via Creative Commons)
Support in the Illinois legislature is slowly growing for a proposal that backers say will save ratepayers millions while freeing up state renewable energy funds currently sitting unspent.
But the proposed bill faces an uphill political battle because of opposition from ComEd’s parent company Exelon, whose nuclear fleet could face competition and depressed power prices with more wind power on the market.
Illinois energy experts have for months been calling for reforms to the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS). The massive shift away from utilities to community aggregation and alternative electricity suppliers has exacerbated a quirk in the law that now means customers are paying millions of dollars into a fund for renewable energy that is languishing untapped.
Meanwhile, the state risks failing to meet mandatory benchmarks in the RPS; and even the renewable power that is being bought for Illinois customers is largely through short-term contracts for renewable energy credits that could come from wind farms in Texas or other states.
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.
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.
(Photo via GE Hitachi)
A new, smaller breed of nuclear reactor that is being promoted by the Obama administration may offer some advantages over the larger reactors that now provide about 20 percent of the United States’ electricity, but critics say they also have the same drawbacks.
While nuclear plant construction is largely a thing of the past in the U.S., the new smaller paradigm – and the $452 million in federal funds aimed at pushing it forward – has generated a lot of interest. At least four consortia of engineering and utility firms are now developing designs and licensing standards, and competing for federal funds.
One industry group, led by engineering/construction firms Babcock & Wilcox and Bechtel, has been awarded federal funds and plans to have its first small modular reactor (SMR) operating at a site in Tennessee by 2022.
The Obama administration is aiming for 20 plants by 2030 and 50 plants by 2040.
Activists celebrate the closure of the Fisk coal plant in Chicago in 2012. (Photo by Marianne Morgan/ELPC)
CHICAGO — The Fisk coal-fired power plant whose stack towers over the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago has been closed for seven months.
But the plant is still very much on the minds of community activists who want to see the site cleaned up and turned into a park or other publicly beneficial use.
Residents who live near the Fisk plant and another coal plant closed last summer, Crawford in the adjacent Little Village neighborhood, have been worried about lasting contamination from the plants and demanding testing be done to search for any problems.
Testing results explained by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials at meetings in Pilsen and Little Village March 20 and 21, respectively, revealed there are no significant levels of radiation or particulate matter in the air around the now-closed plants.
There are, however, high lead levels in surrounding soils, which could be attributed to the coal plants along with other historical sources including smelters, lead paint and leaded gasoline.
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan surprised observers last week by announcing support for a two-year moratorium on fracking. (Associated Press)
Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s statement last week that he supports a moratorium on fracking has thrown both industry and environmental groups for a loop.
Many had thought Madigan supported the fracking regulatory bill introduced last month and widely described as the strongest in the nation.
Now people close to the issue are not sure if Madigan has had a change of heart; they also speculate he was trying to pressure industry groups to agree to significant extraction (or severance) taxes for fracking.
Such taxes were indeed added to the bill as an amendment during a committee hearing Thursday. The committee was expected to vote on Friday whether to move the amended bill to the House floor for consideration by the full chamber, but that meeting was postponed.
Like the environmental provisions of the regulatory bill, the taxes apply to fracking for both gas and oil.
Cooling towers under construction at the Brayton Point Power Station in 2010. (Photo by Rick Payette via Creative Commons)
©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Daniel Cusick
New England’s largest coal-fired power plant has a new prospective owner, as New Jersey-based Energy Capital Partners this week agreed to purchase the 1,528-megawatt Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Massachusetts from Dominion Resources Inc.
The $650 million after-tax deal also will see two other Dominion power plants transfer to the private equity firm by the second quarter of 2013, according to a release from Virginia-based Dominion. They are the 1,158 MW Kincaid Power Station in southern Illinois, also a coal-burning plant, and the natural-gas-fired Elwood Power Station outside Chicago.
The sale completes a divestment process begun last year when Dominion announced it would exit the merchant power business in order to focus money and attention on its rate-based service territory in the mid-Atlantic region (ClimateWire, Sept. 14, 2012).
A coal train in northern Illinois. (Photo by contemplative imaging via Creative Commons)
©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Christa Marshall
The FutureGen Industrial Alliance is pushing back against utility challengers to its flagship “clean” coal project.
In a letter sent to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the alliance said that legal challenges to a 20-year power purchase agreement for FutureGen 2.0 — an advanced coal plant that aims to capture 90 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions — are unlikely to be successful.
Exelon Corp. subsidiary Commonwealth Edison and a trade association are appealing the power agreement approved by Illinois regulators for the carbon capture project in December 2012. The critics charge that the regulatory body, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), stepped beyond its authority when requiring that the state’s utilities purchase FutureGen’s power when the coal plant becomes operational in 2017.