Quick Hit Progress Illinois Friday November 4th, 2011, 12:02pm

Op-Ed: It…Is…Alive! – Tenaska’s Coal Plant Lives On

The following is an op-ed by Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter.

It’s a monster, and it will not die – until Springfield comes their senses.

You may not have heard of Tenaska, but they know about you. Tenaska is an out-of-state corporation that wants to put you on the hook for a very dirty, risky proposition. Tenaska has a deal for you – they build a coal plant, and you have to buy all of their output, for 30 years.

There’s a small catch, of course. Tenaska can’t sell you the power at a fair price, or anywhere near it. They can’t beat the price of wind power. They want to lock you into a rate seven times the current market price. But, if they have their way, the Illinois General Assembly will force you to pay the difference, and to subsidize their coal plant. That is, unless Springfield finally drives the silver spike through this monster, once and for all.

Tenaska has been trying to sell Springfield on its sweetheart deal for years. Despite hiring a battalion of statehouse insiders as lobbyists, they haven’t been able to overcome the alarming price tag, and grave concerns about their sketchy plans to deal with huge amounts of new pollution. The State Senate has rejected the company twice, and there wasn’t enough support in the Illinois House for a vote this Spring. But, like the monster in a bad horror movie who gets up off the floor after we assume they are finally dead, Tenaska is coming back at our wallets stronger than ever. Last week, 24 Senators voted for Tenaska, short of the 30 needed for passage, but they will try again November 8-10.

You’d pay on your power bill, but it doesn’t stop there. Tenaska also wants to force the CTA, Chicago Public Schools, Cook County Hospital, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, and other local governments to underwrite them. Everyone who takes the CTA to lower their carbon footprint would now be subsidizing coal, and the CTA, which faces a huge deficit, would pay over $1 million a year extra for a coal plant over 200 miles away. All these local governments would pay more, and they would have little choice but to raise taxes and fares on us to cover the cost.

Just as Tenaska makes its big push, the Illinois EPA has come out with an alarming new analysis of the pollution it would cause. Illinois EPA recently estimated Tenaska’s potential at over 10 billion pounds per year, including health-threatening lead and mercury and the pollutants linked to climate change. Tenaska itself admits to IEPA that the pollution control plan in SB679 is “not commercially available”.

Tenaska proposes to bury some of their pollution underground at undisclosed locations. They hope that somebody else will come and build a pollution pipeline to take their pollution away. However, IEPA finds that “the necessary prerequisites for sequestration (or burying of Tenaska’s pollution) would not be present.” Tenaska itself admitted to IEPA that the plan it is lobbying the legislature for is “not commercially available.”

The only reason Springfield is even considering such a scary proposition is the very real need for jobs in central Illinois. But there is a better way to create jobs in new energy technology. Illinois’ clean energy incentives, which have created 14,000 jobs since 2006, are a much better model for new energy job creation. Our renewable energy goals require competitive bidding, rather than naming a single company the winner of a 30-year contract. The clean energy programs cap the costs to ratepayers, and invest in proven technology like wind and solar power rather than risky coal projects. Tenaska’s proposal contradicts all of these important safeguards.

It’s time for Illinois to roll the credits on Tenaska’s horror flick. A good scare is one thing, but Springfield needs to pull the plug on Tenaska before we’re all on the hook for a thirty year nightmare.

Tell you Senator how you feel, before it’s too late.

Jack Darin is director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter.


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