AWEA’s interim CEO Rob Gramlich
Last year, wind power accounted for more new generating capacity than any other energy source in the U.S., which topped the 60,000 MW mark for installed capacity for the first time.
Illinois ranked fifth among states for most new capacity installed in 2012, according to state rankings by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). Illinois now has 3,568 MW of wind power in place, powering the equivalent of 1.1 million homes and ranking the state fourth in total capacity behind Texas, California and Iowa.
Meanwhile Illinois is also a leader in wind energy manufacturing. At least 33 businesses statewide manufacture wind turbine components, accounting for about 1,000 manufacturing jobs, according to AWEA. Between 6,000 and 7,000 indirect and direct jobs are attributed to the wind industry in Illinois, and annual lease payments to landowners total more than $8 million.
Officials in Marceline, Missouri say they’ll have to cut city services to pay for their contract with the Prairie State Energy Campus. (Photo by J. Stephen Conn via Creative Commons)
As the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigates Peabody Energy Corporation’s role in the Prairie State Energy Campus, it remains unclear what exactly the commission is investigating or whether the utilities in eight states that are co-owners of the project have also received subpoenas.
But towns contracted to buy power from and cover costs of the trouble-plagued southern Illinois coal plant continue to lose millions of dollars on the deal, according to recent statements by local officials and analysts.
Critics say they are not surprised to hear the SEC is investigating, and regardless of the outcome, they hope Prairie State’s owners will move to reduce the burden on financially struggling towns.
The investigation was disclosed in Peabody’s annual SEC filing on February 25.
“We think it’s a suspect deal at best,” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, an environmental and consumer group that opposes the plant. “This was going to be a Peabody thing and suddenly Peabody shifted 95 percent of that risk onto small municipalities. It’s definitely worthy of investigation by multiple authorities we would think…we’re pleased to see the SEC stepping in.”
Illinois Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Illinois State Capitol Thursday to announce proposed new fracking regulations. (Associated Press / Seth Perlman)
Environmental leaders are calling a bill introduced Thursday in the Illinois legislature potentially the strongest measure nationwide for regulating hydraulic fracturing, also commonly known as fracking.
The legislation — called the “Bradley bill” after its sponsor, Rep. John Bradley — included nearly all the provisions that leaders of major environmental groups had expected after months of discussions with industry, legislators and the state’s attorney general.
“But there’s a caveat when saying (a fracking bill) is the ‘strongest in the nation,’” said Jennifer Cassel, a staff attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC). “That’s not saying all that much – we don’t think the floor is high enough. It doesn’t mean we’re doing the most protective standards that could possibly be done.”
A representative of the oil and gas industry also described the bill as “not perfect by any means.”
(Photo by Randy von Liski via Creative Commons)
Illinois legislators are expected to introduce a bill in coming days or weeks that would regulate hydraulic fracturing in the state.
Known as Democratic Rep. John Bradley’s bill, it is expected to be shaped by months of discussions that have taken place among environmental and industry leaders and legislators. Last year, legislation that started with support from both environmental and industry groups died after undergoing various permutations, including the addition of a two-year fracking moratorium.
“We’re 85 percent there in terms of where the environmental groups, industry and the Attorney General’s office want it to be,” said Tom Wolf, executive director of the Energy Council of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. “But the last 15 percent can sometimes be very difficult.”
Plans for a controversial coal mine in Eastern Illinois farm country ground to an unexpected halt Monday evening when the village of Homer, Illinois, voted not to provide the coal company with water it needs to operate the mine.
Although the mine’s fate is still undecided, the vote was an important victory for activists trying to stop the mine.
It “represents a sea change,” said Traci Barkley, a water resources scientist at Prairie Rivers Network, a Champaign, Illinois, environmental group. “I think we’re starting to see decision makers value water over any potential benefits from hosting a coal mine.”
The Prairie Rivers Network is a member of RE-AMP, which also publishes Midwest Energy News.
Sunrise Coal spokeswoman Suzanne Jaworowski had a very different take on the vote. “This won’t stop the project,” she said.
The Will County Generating Station is one of Midwest Generation’s Illinois coal plants. (Photo by Darius Norvilas via Creative Commons)
JOLIET, Illinois — Workers from Midwest Generation’s four Illinois coal plants packed a meeting of the Illinois Pollution Control Board in the Chicago suburb of Joliet Tuesday, as company officials asked the board to delay 2015 and 2016 deadlines for installing sulfur dioxide controls on its plants as mandated under a 2006 state agreement.
Midwest Generation argued that because of economic forces unforeseen when the agreement was signed – including its December filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy — there is no way it can afford the $440 million needed to meet the deadlines. Midwest Generation’s filing called the request a “pause” in its pollution control plans that would allow it to defer $210 million in investments.
Company officials said the plants would get back on the original compliance schedule by 2017, when they expect a rosier financial outlook including the resolution of bankruptcy proceedings.
“In no way, shape or form will we receive a free pass,” Midwest Generation president Douglas McFarlan told the board.
Physicist Mahalingam Balasubramanian conducts battery research at Argonne National Laboratory. (Photo by ANL via Creative Commons)
Chicago has often been called the nation’s candy capital, murder capital, basketball capital, steakhouse capital and even the capital of “false confessions.”
Now Chicago boosters are planning to add the title “battery capital” to the list (though that title is already claimed by Holland, Michigan, thanks to two factories that opened last year).
Advanced batteries are crucial to a cleaner and more efficient energy future, many experts say. Developing better batteries for electric vehicles could replace emissions-spewing trucks, cars and machinery. And improving giant batteries to store energy on the grid or in buildings is key to large-scale deployment of solar and wind energy.
In November, the U.S. Department of Energy announced that Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago had won the heated competition for a $120 million, five-year grant to develop a battery research and development hub.
This means a stand-alone battery facility will be built at Argonne, and the lab will partner with prominent universities and private companies in a multi-faceted initiative that aims to explore fundamental yet vexing science and engineering questions while encouraging venture capital start-up companies and established multinational corporations to channel their findings into commercial applications.
A worker on a natural gas rig in the Piceance Basin in Colorado. (Photo by EnergyTomorrow via Creative Commons)
There’s no question that widespread extraction of shale gas will have a significant economic impact. The scope of that impact, however, will likely be more difficult to pin down than industry projections might suggest.
A study commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 21st Century Energy Institute says the extraction of “unconventional” shale oil and gas through horizontal hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – has meant a job boom even in states that don’t actually have shale deposits, with 1.7 million jobs already created and a total of 3.5 million projected by 2035.
The study was released in two phases in October and December, and a third phase is forthcoming.
Skeptics with environmental and citizens groups have questioned the numbers and also the benefits that these jobs actually provide to local communities. Many industry jobs are not filled by local residents, and a boom town effect, including escalating cost of living and other social problems, has been documented in places where an extraction industry rapidly arises.
They also say the study doesn’t account for the economic impacts of possible environmental problems and copious water use, or impacts on other industries and quality of life.
Blower door tests will be required on all new construction in Illinois. (Photo by Brandon Stafford via Creative Commons)
For most of last year, homebuilders waged a pitched–and ultimately, losing–battle in Illinois against a new state building code that’s one of the most energy-efficient in the nation.
The new code went into effect on January 1, creating headaches for some home builders, but also opportunities for others in the construction sector.
Building codes are state or local rules that provide technical standards about how builders should construct new buildings. By tightening requirements for insulation, window and door construction, and the like, new buildings can be sealed better than older buildings, which reduces the energy required to heat and cool them.
Every three years the International Code Council publishes a new version of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). Each version of that code is designed to make houses 15 percent more energy efficient than the last. The most recent version was released in 2012, and according to the New Buildings Institute, the code improved energy efficiency 30 percent compared to conventional building practices.
The Joliet Station power plant outside Chicago is one of four Illinois power plants operated by Midwest Generation. (Photo by Michael Kappel via Creative Commons)
Midwest Generation’s four remaining Illinois coal plants will continue to operate as usual for the near future, even after parent company Edison Mission Energy’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Monday.
But local experts say the bankruptcy filing is the culmination of writing that has been on the wall for some time, and they expect some or all of the coal plants to close in coming years.
Midwest Generation and Edison Mission Energy (EME) have been hit hard by cheap natural gas prices, falling energy demand, increased energy efficiency and mandates for expensive pollution controls that have all made the power from their aging coal-fired plants uncompetitive on the open market where they sell their electricity.
Ultimately the bankruptcy court and owners that could take possession of Midwest Generation’s assets in the future could continue to run the coal plants – three in the Chicago area and one in Pekin in central Illinois. An EME press release and spokesman Douglas McFarlan’s comments to Midwest Energy News don’t indicate any plans to close the plants.
But if the coal plants were unprofitable under Midwest Generation, there is no reason to expect they could turn a profit under new ownership, sources say, particularly as new sulfur dioxide controls are still needed at every plant, for a total cost of $628 million. A July filing by Midwest Generation indicated that financing from EME would be needed to make the pollution control upgrades; now such financing appears highly unlikely, if not impossible.