Illinois native Sandra Steingraber has taken her fracking fight to New York. Photo by Dale Willman.
High-profile environmental activist, biologist and writer Sandra Steingraber – whom Rolling Stone dubbed the “Toxic Avenger” – gained her love of science and ecology in the Midwest, growing up in central Illinois and studying English and biology in Illinois before earning a biology doctorate at the University of Michigan.
Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring motivated Steingraber to “leave the lab,” as she says, and become an environmental activist and watchdog, as well as an author and poet. She survived bladder cancer — which she suspects was linked to water pollution — and gained international acclaim for her book Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment, overlaying cancer data and federal toxic release statistics.
In 2011 Steingraber won the prestigious Heinz Award. By then she was living in upstate New York, where high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) for natural gas had exploded on the scene. Steingraber used the $100,000 prize to start the grassroots organization New Yorkers Against Fracking, a movement that soon spread to other states and launched her as an international leader on the issue.
Steingraber has spoken out against the controversial fracking regulations in her home state of Illinois, and traveled to Europe to meet with people dealing with drilling in their communities.
She spent a few days in late June at Carnegie Mellon University with a delegation of reporters convened by the Society of Environmental Journalists. The group heard from industry sources, academics, scientists, landowners and activists about the ways fracking has played out in the Marcellus shale, and what the future may hold.
The Presque Isle power plant in Marquette, Michigan, receives a subsidy to continue operating amid grid concerns. (Photo by Adam Shoop via Creative Commons)
Scores of coal-fired power plants have been retired and taken off-line in recent years, and coal plant retirements are likely to continue or accelerate as deadlines for federal pollution regulations loom and states respond to the recently-proposed EPA carbon reduction plan.
Clean energy advocates and environmentalists typically cheer the closing of coal plants. But sometimes power plants – whether coal, natural gas or nuclear – are crucial to providing stability on the grid, even if their electricity is not needed to meet demand.
Hence regional transmission organizations (RTOs), the entities which oversee the grid and electricity markets for different regions, have the power to order a plant to keep running even if it is not financially viable.
Exelon’s Byron Generating Station in northern Illinois. (Photo by Michael Kappel via Creative Commons)
©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
by Jeffrey Tomich
Illinois House leaders Friday filed a resolution urging federal and state agencies to adopt policies and rules that would enhance the competitiveness of Exelon Corp.’s nuclear fleet in the name of preserving thousands of Illinois jobs and millions of dollars in taxes paid annually to the state.
The resolution, scheduled for a hearing before the House Environment Committee today, is the latest signal that the financial health of Exelon’s six nuclear plants in its home state is going to loom large as state agencies craft a plan to meet carbon standards for existing power plants to be issued by U.S. EPA in a week.
“It’s increasingly likely that the Legislature is going to deal with this issue,” said David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, a Chicago-based consumer advocacy group.
“What we would like to see here is a comprehensive discussion of the least-cost way to meet the carbon rules,” he said. “What we wouldn’t want to see is a bailout that sticks consumers with all the risks of markets.”
Map via Enbridge (click for larger version)
©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Jeffrey Tomich
Canadian pipeline company Enbridge Inc. moved a step closer to being able to move ahead with an $800 million oil pipeline in Illinois — a project initially proposed almost eight years ago.
An administrative law judge on Thursday recommended that Enbridge be granted authority to use eminent domain to acquire easements across 127 tracts of land. The final decision will ultimately be made by the Illinois Commerce Commission.
The Southern Access Extension pipeline would cross eight counties and 165 miles directly south from the company’s Flanagan oil terminal at Pontiac, Illinois, to an oil terminal and pipeline hub at Patoka.
The 24-inch-diameter line is just one piece of a much broader strategy by Enbridge to expand its network of North American oil pipelines, and the Southern Access Extension, itself, has evolved since it was proposed.
Opponents of the Rocky Branch strip mine in Illinois block logging equipment on a nearby road. (Photo by Jeff Lucas via Creative Commons)
On March 13, a handful of local residents blocked a road through the forest in southern Illinois and attempted to prevent a contractor for Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal company, from bringing in logging equipment to clear the area for a new 1,000-acre mine.
The Rocky Branch strip mine would basically be an extension of Peabody’s existing Cottage Grove mine, which produces about two million tons of coal annually and supplies Tennessee Valley Authority power plants in Ohio.
Logging had already started before the residents blocked the road; and continued during and since the blockade, which lasted for about four hours. Nonetheless, residents said they prevented some equipment from being moved and made a strong statement against the mine.
Residents opposed to the mine are demanding Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan intervene and review the permit process surrounding Rocky Branch, and order Peabody to halt its logging operations in the meantime.
The case may also represent a broader shift in attitude in a part of Illinois that has long acquiesced to the coal industry.
A wind farm under construction in McLean County, Illinois, in 2007. (Photo by Samdogs via Creative Commons)
Almost 100,000 Illinois workers are employed in clean energy jobs, more than the state’s real estate and accounting sectors combined, according to a new survey.
The Clean Jobs Illinois report, released today by the Clean Energy Trust in partnership with the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Entrepreneurs, found 96,875 workers statewide spend some portion of their day supporting clean energy.
The survey used a “narrow” definition of qualifying jobs, defined as “only those workers who have clean energy jobs at organizations that are directly connected to the clean energy industry.”
More than a third of the jobs are in engineering, research, assembly and manufacturing.
“These are good jobs with good benefits, and they make Illinois’ economy more productive and competitive,” the report notes.
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.