Overshadowed by the prolonged and ultimately fruitless debate on a
big tax break bill, the Illinois Senate used an extra day of their fall
veto session, November 29, to approve a coal-to-gas plant in Taylorville,
Illinois, by a 30-28 vote. It is estimated to cost state utility ratepayers $3.5
The Senate had twice rejected the proposed Taylorville Energy Center to be run by Omaha-based Tenaska, Inc., including as recently as Oct. 27.
But a parliamentary maneuver by bill sponsor John Cullerton (D-Chicago), the Senate president, kept the energy plant alive and now the bill goes to the House. A similar measure narrowly passed the House in November 2010.
But it’s not a sure thing that the House and Gov. Quinn will green light the project. Meanwhile, a recent Illinois EPA report exacerbates fears of environmental groups that the project is not much better for the atmosphere than a traditional coal plant.
Gov. Pat Quinn has not said if he approves of the project. “Governor Quinn will review the bill if and when it arrives on his desk,” says Quinn spokeswoman Annie Thompson.
Also, it’s not inevitable the bill passes the House. Rep. Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley), sponsored the November 2010 bill and Mautino’s office said that the representative doesn’t plan to sponsor the bill again.
John Patterson, a spokesman for Cullerton, said that Cullerton does not yet know who will take the lead on companion legislation.
The House will meet for one day next week, but it will likely focus solely on tax break legislation. The House is next scheduled to meet January 31.
Patterson acknowledges that it “can take time to build support” for the bill in the House, like it did in the Senate.
It’s not clear why the Senate finally came around to the energy plant. Some African American legislators may have changed their vote to a 'yes' because Tenaska promised a $30 million minority scholarship fund.
A call to Toi Hutchinson (D-Kankakee), head of the Senate black caucus, was not returned. Hutchinson did vote for the bill along with most, but not all, of the Black Caucus.
Patterson says that the approval was based on the bill’s merits.
“There is a need for employment throughout the state especially downstate,” Patterson says. “And the idea here is that Illinois also takes control of its own energy future.”
Environmentally, though, the bill is shaky. Tenaska is using two largely unproven technologies: integrated gasification combined cycle, or IGCC, and Carbon Capture and Sequestration, or CCS, to keep the carbon dioxide emissions linked to climate change from getting in the atmosphere.
The Illinois EPA
project summary notes that CCS has not been used beyond, “limited
duration demonstration projects.” The state agency also notes that
Tenaska estimates that the plant will emit 5 million tons of carbon
dioxide emissions each year.
Rebecca Stanfield, a program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council and vocal opponent of the project, notes that this would make Tenaska the tenth biggest source of carbon dioxide pollutants in the state. In both CO2 pollution and megawatts of energy used, the Tenaska plant is roughly comparable to Midwest Generation’s coal-fired power plant in Waukegan.
Stanfield and other Illinois environmental groups hope that these environmental concerns will prove to be the bill’s undoing. “We feel we have better than a fighting change of beating it in the house,” Stanfield said.