Jeff Biggers is the author of “Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland,” among other books.
By Jeff Biggers
As Illinois finds itself once again in the throes of a short-term coal rush with devastating health and environmental consequences, it’s time to finally turn the page on the past and transition to a future with more sustainable economic development.
It’s time for Illinois to pay its debt to downstate coal mining communities.
Last month, a coal miner friend in Eastern Kentucky reminded me how his state was finally entering a new era, and getting past the hand-wringing, the finger-pointing, and the false arguments on coal mining. Led by bipartisan politicians, Eastern Kentuckians gathered on Dec. 9 for a high-level government-sponsored summit on economic diversification.
“The Chicago metropolitan market is the largest untapped solar market in the U.S.,” according to a firm that specializes in networked energy storage modules. (Photo by Jennifer Wang via Creative Commons)
Cross-posted from Greentech Media with permission
By Katherine Tweed
When GTM Research recently looked at some of the most interesting state markets for distributed storage, Illinois did not make the top of the list.
But northern Illinois, which is the westernmost part of PJM territory, is exactly where Intelligent Generation is looking to make inroads with its behind-the-meter energy storage and software-as-a-service package.
“We are all about monetizing storage when it’s combined with solar,” said Jay Marhoefer, founder and CEO of Intelligent Generation. IG integrates client-owned storage assets with the grid to cut demand charges, as well as to provide frequency regulation or other services based on the owner’s needs.
If a grocery store in Ohio is talking to a solar developer, the store owner may find that the payback is simply too long, explained Marhoefer. A solar developer partner will then call IG, which will run analytics to size a solar system integrated with storage to serve the load so that it has a more attractive payback.
(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.
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.
Installers say farms like this one in central Minnesota make ideal locations for solar arrays. (Photo by CERTs via Creative Commons)
Solar installations have been taking off in many areas of the Midwest, but perhaps nowhere more so than in farm country.
“It’s a huge buzz now throughout the agriculture industry,” said Todd Miller, sales director for CB Solar in Ankeny, Iowa.
In Washington County, Iowa, for example, farmers with access to an unusual and lucrative combination of federal, state and utility incentives were anticipating payback periods of as little as two years, according to Ed Raber, director of the county’s economic development corporation.
Consequently, he said, “There are more solar panels in Washington County than in any other county in Iowa.”
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.
A wind farm under construction in Germany in 2009. (Photo by Windwärts Energie via Creative Commons)
Chicago energy experts who spent a week in Germany and Brussels in mid-November on a fact-finding expedition came back with a complicated take on Germany’s famous Energiewende, the sweeping transition to clean and renewable energy.
They were highly impressed with the fact that unlike the U.S., Germany has a cohesive national energy policy, and that it has meant rapid adoption of solar and wind power, including through substantial governmental support and subsidies.
But they also learned how Germany has in some ways been a victim of its own success, with the swift transition to solar and wind and the closure of nuclear plants raising reliability issues.
“They’ve been successful beyond their wildest dreams – there’s so much solar and wind coming on to their grid that it’s actually destabilizing their grid,” said Rachel Bronson, vice president of studies for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which convened the delegation along with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) – a political organization close to the center-right Christian Democratic Party. “It’s exciting, but there is too much (renewable power) coming on at times, and sometimes not enough.”