Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club’s Illinois Chapter, wrote an op-ed for Progress Illinois November 4 that slammed the Taylorville Energy Center, a proposed coal-to-gas plant in Taylorville, Illinois. Darin likened Tenaska, Inc. the Omaha, Nebraska-based company in charge of the project to, “The monster in a bad horror movie who gets up off the floor after we assume they are finally dead.”
Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club’s Illinois Chapter, wrote an op-ed for Progress Illinois November 4 that slammed
the Taylorville Energy Center, a proposed coal-to-gas plant in
Taylorville, Illinois. Darin likened Tenaska, Inc. the Omaha,
Nebraska-based company in charge of the project to, “The monster in a
bad horror movie who gets up off the floor after we assume they are
The comparison may be prophetic. The second week of the Illinois General Assembly’s veto session concluded November 14 without a Senate vote on a bill where utility ratepayers pay $3.5 billion over 30 years to finance the plant.
However, bill sponsor John Cullerton, the Senate president, has renewed his effort to pass the bill, which fell six votes shy of passage on October 27. It was the second time the bill failed to pass the Senate, after clearing the House last year.
Cullerton’s push, according to Kurt Erickson of the Bloomington Pantagraph, is because a new plant, “would deliver a prize political plum for his chief of staff, Andy Maner,” who is running for a Senate district that includes Taylorville.
Cullerton spokesman John Patterson denied in an interview that the Senate President is doing this for his chief of staff’s election prospects. “It has nothing do with any campaigns,” Patterson says. “The Senate president remains an active supporter and is trying to pool a coalition of votes to get it passed.”
The Senate might vote on the bill November 29 – supposed to be the absolute final day of the veto session – or it might be voted on in the 2012 winter session. “It’s in flux at the moment,” Patterson says.
Cullerton’s push is the latest saga in a proposal that has been around since the late 1990’s – and in the process forged unlikely political alliances and an uncertain end game.
The energy center could go the way of FutureGen – another downstate Illinois project that ultimately fizzled despite substantial Obama administration support. Or the energy center subsidy could pass the Senate and significantly change the state’s energy consumption.
Most environmental groups oppose the plant – and in doing so find themselves in an unlikely alliance with Exelon, parent company of ComEd, and a coalition of business interests. The Illinois AFL-CIO and the Taylorville community, meanwhile, support the project for its job creation.
Tenaska would combine integrated gasification combined cycle technology, or IGCC – which converts coal to gas – with carbon capture and sequestration technology, or CCS – which is supposed to bury underground the carbon dioxide emissions that cause climate change.
Tenaska claims the plant is a breakthrough in “clean coal” – that it will use downstate Illinois’ abundant coal resources to create jobs, while not doing much to pollute the air.
“We are talking about 16,000 direct and indirect jobs at a time when Illinois is still in significant economic distress,” says Dave Lundy, a Chicago-based spokesman for Tenaska. A more specific estimate by supporters is that constructing the plant alone will provide 2,500 jobs.
But environmental groups say that Tenaska’s proposed limits on CO2 emissions as well as mercury emissions aren’t stringent enough.
“IGCC technology can be coupled with CCS technology,” says Rebecca Stanfield, a program director at the NRDC Midwest office. “There may be a theoretical project that we would support, but this project is not the one.”
Besides jobs and air pollution, the main issue is people’s monthly utility bills. Rates for residential utility users cannot increase by more than two percent a year, meaning that the brunt of the $3.5 billion added to utility bills will fall on commercial and publicly-owned buildings.
So a group of Chamber of Commerce-type business interests formed the Stop Tenaska’s Overpriced Power coalition to protest the plant. “It should be investors and not ratepayers that fund this,” says coalition spokesman Jeff Philips.
Exelon, the state’s primary energy supplier, joins them in opposition.
Meanwhile, Tenaska and the local Taylorville community use the opposition of business and Exelon, the largest nuclear power company in the U.S., as a populist rallying cry.
“It is a very well-funded group of opponents to this project,” Lundy of Tenaska says.
“I strongly support this project,” says Greg Brotherton, the mayor of Taylorville. “The Taylorville community as a whole also strongly supports the project. The primary opponents are Exelon and ComEd who do not want the competition.”
Stanfield of NRDC acknowledges the unlikely alliances. “It’s unusual but it’s probably unusual that groups on the other side of this issue are working with the coal folks,” Stanfield says. “I’m very happy to be working with the business groups that want to lend their support to what we’re trying to do.”