A former coal mine site in southern Illinois has become the focal point of a legal fight over state regulation. (Image via Google Maps)
Around the turn of the millennium, southern Illinois environmental consultant Bob Johnson would drive by a six-story-high grassy plateau and imagine the ways the reclaimed coal mine waste storage site could be put to “higher or better” use than its previous life as farmland.
Those words are enshrined in the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMRCA), the federal law that requires mine sites to be returned to an approximation of their natural contours and to uses at least as beneficial as their previous incarnation.
“I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we could put baseball fields on top of this mound of waste, from the highway you’d see them up in the air, people would be enjoying it, wouldn’t that be great?” said Johnson.
But far from becoming sports fields, the waste dump has become the grounds for a legal demand, filed last month, that seeks a federal takeover of mining oversight in Illinois.
If granted, the decision could put a major chill on Illinois’s resurgent coal mining industry and spark the re-examination of numerous mining and waste permits previously issued by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR).
In Cook County, which includes Chicago, 41 percent of households are renters. (Photo by sabrina via Creative Commons)
Making the case for energy efficiency investments seems relatively straightforward for homeowners who will reap the benefits directly in lower utility bills. But for rental, multi-unit buildings where landlords pay for infrastructure and appliance upgrades while tenants pay all or most of the utility bills, it’s much more complicated.
This situation is referred to as a “split incentive,” where the party making the investment won’t directly reap all or any of the financial benefits.
Landlords who don’t live in a given building also don’t have the personal incentive of seeking a more comfortable dwelling free of drafts and temperature swings.
But energy efficiency measures like insulation, new furnaces, smart appliances and efficient lighting do pay off for building owners, a message the Chicago-based group Elevate Energy is working to convey statewide. Elevate Energy has a program specifically to educate multi-unit building owners about energy efficiency and assist them with free energy audits and advice on contractors and upgrades.
Illinois Science and Energy Innovation Foundation grantees tour Ameren facilities in downstate Illinois. (Photo courtesy ISEIF)
The smart meters being delivered to Illinois homes under the state’s 2011 smart grid law could potentially spark significant energy savings – relieving burden on the grid and on power supplies and saving money for residents.
But that’s only if people use the information provided by smart meters to modify their habits, by shifting when they use energy, installing more efficient appliances and the like. Figuring out how to use a smart meter and respond to the data it provides is a complicated and intimidating task for anyone.
It is especially challenging for renters and public housing residents who don’t own their appliances or even pay their own energy bills; or for senior citizens who don’t know how to use the internet; or for immigrants who don’t speak English. And for people in low-income and marginalized neighborhoods in general, beset by violence, decrepit housing, and a lack of well-paying jobs, understanding and modifying energy use is likely to be a very low priority.
Exelon’s nuclear power plant at Byron, Illinois. (Photo by Bill and Vicki T via Creative Commons)
©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Jeffrey Tomich
An executive for the nation’s largest nuclear generator said U.S. EPA’s proposed carbon plan, which designates 6 percent of the nation’s nuclear capacity “at risk” for retirement, provides little help to prop up financially struggling reactors.
“There’s not really much of an incentive,” Kathleen Barrón, senior vice president of federal regulatory affairs and wholesale market policy for Exelon Corp., told Illinois regulators.
Barrón’s comments came during an Illinois Commerce Commission policy session Tuesday on the state’s efforts to comply with the Obama administration’s plan for a 30 percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 2030.
The meeting was the second of three scheduled by the commission to discuss implementation of the EPA rule, which is expected to be finalized next summer and implemented a year or two after that. A third policy session is set for Nov. 6.
The Newton Power Station is one of five Illinois coal plants that Dynegy took over last year. (AP Photo/Jim Suhr, File)
Last year, Ameren Corp. basically paid Dynegy Inc. to take five aging coal plants in downstate Illinois off its hands.
Now Dynegy is seeking to make those plants more profitable, through changes to the way they are paid for capacity – potential future generation that can be called on if needed.
Critics of the plan say the changes would mean higher costs for ratepayers with little, if any, improvement in reliability.
The plants provide power to the utility Ameren Illinois, which is part of the Midwest Independent System Operator (MISO) regional transmission organization (RTO). MISO runs an annual capacity auction wherein generators are paid for power they will be prepared to provide if needed.
A drilling rig in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania. (Photo by WCN 24.7 via Creative Commons)
Petroleum backers say a new job survey makes the case for why Illinois should be doing more to expand drilling, particularly fracking, in the state.
The oil and gas industry has created 263,700 jobs in Illinois, according to a study released by the American Petroleum Institute Tuesday that lists direct, indirect and induced jobs created, as well as vendors with contracts with the industry, in each state.
In Illinois, 932 businesses are part of the oil and gas supply chain, the study says, supporting $33.3 billion, or five percent, of the state’s economy.
American Petroleum Institute senior economic adviser Rayola Dougher and Illinois Petroleum Council executive director Jim Watson said the study shows why state regulators should be doing more to facilitate the launch of high volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
(Photo by SaskPower via Creative Commons)
In an ideal world, smart meters paired with sophisticated sensors and software programs in homes across the country would allow people to constantly shift their habits and alter their energy use to save money and reduce carbon emissions.
But even as utilities are increasingly installing smart meters and providing customers with data about usage, advocates say they are not generally offering the data quickly enough — or in as much detail as needed — for maximum energy conservation.
At the core of this issue is the question of who “owns” a household’s energy use data – the utility or the customer themselves. Also, whether and how the data can be automatically passed on to a third party – namely a company that will use the data help customers save energy.
©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Jeffrey Tomich
Efforts to develop the FutureGen “clean coal” demonstration project in western Illinois cleared a major hurdle last month with a legal victory that will force consumers to purchase the $1.65 billion project’s output.
But a different legal challenge — a Sierra Club complaint filed with the Illinois Pollution Control Board — is keeping jittery investors on the sideline and threatens to derail development of the plant, a FutureGen executive said in testimony filed with the board.
FutureGen 2.0 is the second iteration of a federal clean coal demonstration project originally proposed by the George W. Bush administration more than a decade ago. The original, more ambitious plan was scrapped after years of planning and political rancor because of massive cost increases.
Workers for Ailey Solar install panel mounts on a Chicago rooftop. (Photo courtesy Ailey Solar)
Two years ago, Dorian Breuer waited six months to get permits to install solar panels on his home on the south side of Chicago.
At that same time, Breuer was in the heat of the battle to close Chicago’s two coal-fired power plants, as a leader of the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization.
Today the coal plants are closed and Breuer, along with Jack Ailey, another leader in the campaign, run one of the four companies chosen to implement the city’s Solar Chicago program offering discounted solar installations through a bulk buy.
The program is administered by the organization Vote Solar, in partnership with the Environmental Law and Policy Center and World Wildlife Fund. It is meant to jumpstart residential rooftop solar energy in Chicago, and if projections go as planned it will mean a raft of new orders for Ailey Solar, founded by Breuer and Ailey two years ago.
Solar panels outside Springfield, Illinois. (Photo by Jeanette E. Spaghetti via Creative Commons)
While the cleantech industry is still largely concentrated on the coasts, a new report shows Illinois is emerging as a national leader.
In Clean Edge’s new 2014 Clean Tech Leadership Index, which ranks states according to multiple factors, only one Midwestern state, Illinois, broke into the top 10 this year.
Ron Pernick, co-founder and managing director of Clean Edge, says Illinois’s success is due to a strong foundation of policy and capital.
Minnesota, which was in the top 10 in previous years, has dropped to a lower tier.
In the technology section of the index, wind catapulted a few Midwestern and Great Plains states to high rankings.