Quick Hit Matthew Blake Friday May 11th, 2012, 3:25pm

Tenaska Compromise Doesn’t Win Over Skeptics

The Nebraska-based energy company Tenaska, Inc. negotiated a deal with state lawmakers this week to run a proposed electricity plant in Taylorville on natural gas instead of coal gasification, and the amended legislation will be called before the House Public Utilities Committee next Thursday.

But environmentalists against the original proposal remain opposed for now – they contend that the new legislation will let Tenaska phase into the more expensive and environmentally risky proposition of converting Illinois’ abundant downstate coal into gas.

“It is kicking the most expensive and dirty parts down the road,” says Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club Illinois chapter.

The Stop Tenaska’s Overpriced Power, or STOP coalition of business and environmental groups are also against the deal.

Sponsored by State Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion), the new bill lets Tenaska build the equipment for a coal gasification facility, and the language calls for only a resolution, not binding legislation, as to whether the plant would eventually start converting coal to gas.

“They are essentially going to build the entire plant that they envisioned from the outset,” contends Mike Denzler, vice president of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, a member of the STOP coalition.

What Tenaska’s plans are, though, if the bill passes the Illinois General Assembly are not entirely clear. Calls to the company’s Omaha headquarters today and a call to bill author Bradley were not immediately returned.

The original legislation proposed a downstate Illinois plant that would sequester underground the carbon dioxide emissions from coal, and convert the coal to gas. The cost of the plant would be passed on to ratepayers: Costs would be capped for residential ratepayers, but not for commercial buildings -- leading some business groups to be the most outspoken opponents of the plan.

The proposal drew a varied set of friends and foes – opponents included Commonwealth Edison, Illinois' top electricity source, and most, but not all, environmental groups. (The Environmental Law and Policy Center, for example, is supportive.) The Illinois AFL-CIO is for the project, as supporters tout the plant potentially creating 2,500 jobs.

The most crucial backer is Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) who shepherded the bill through the Senate last year and steered Tuesday’s negotiations.

The revised deal is estimated to cost ratepayers $1.1 billion over 30 years, instead of $3.5 billion. But the $1.1 billion figure is based on Tenaska sticking with natural gas, which opponents insist will not happen.

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