Public News Service: Living off the Sun’s Power: A Reality in Illinois

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Living off the sun’s power may seem futuristic, but it’s a reality for many Illinoisans. During the Illinois Solar Power Tour on Saturday, more than 80 businesses and homes around the state will showcase their use of solar arrays and other renewable-energy installations.

Lisa Albrecht, a renewable-energy specialist for the Illinois Solar Energy Association, said the tour provides an opportunity to speak one-on-one with people who use solar power systems about their experiences with it. With more than 55 megawatts of solar capacity currently installed in the state, she said, solar is becoming a popular, cost-effective energy option.

“Pricing for solar is down about 65 percent in the last four, five years,” she said, “so we’ve seen a tremendous uptick in volume of interest and people who are actually purchasing and installing them.”

Illinois is ranked 25th nationally in installed solar capacity, according to the Solar Industries Energy Association, with enough generation to power 8,000 homes.

Sarah Wochos, Midwest co-legislative director for the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said a Clean Jobs Bill could really accelerate solar growth in the state. Supported by hundreds of businesses, labor and environmental groups, she said it would promote energy efficiency and carbon regulation. She said it also could improve the state’s renewable-energy standard, which she believes hasn’t worked well.

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Chicago Tribune: Study takes aim at rail gridlock in Chicago

More money alone will not solve the rail gridlock that is choking the flow of freight and passenger trains through northern Illinois and Indiana, a report released on Thursday concluded.

An array of improved operating strategies as well as some new investment are needed to remove the speed bumps from the busiest rail hub in the U.S., said the report, which was commissioned by Amtrak, whose passengers regularly face major delays traveling through the greater Chicago region.

One proposal said that rail dispatchers working for each of the six major freight railroads, as well as separate rail traffic dispatchers at Amtrak and Metra should be located in a unified control center to coordinate trains and improve on-time performance. It’s not the first time the idea has been put forth. Most of the track in the U.S. is owned by freight railroads and they generally oppose sharing control.

“If you had every airline at O’Hare airport with their own air traffic controller doing everything on their own, it would be a mess,” said Howard Learner, who served on a four-member panel appointed by Amtrak last year to produce the report with the help of consultants. Learner is executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago.

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The News-Gazette: Defeats take toll on road plan

If they keep driving nails into the coffin of the proposed Illiana Expressway, one day they’re going to have to bury it.

At least one would think so. But while the proposed expressway intended to link Illinois and Indiana has proved hard to kill, it is, at best, on life support.

The latest blow to this ill-conceived, unaffordable project came Tuesday when the Federal Highway Administration announced that it will not appeal a federal judge’s decision putting the plan on ice.

U.S. Judge Jorge Alonso ruled in June that environmental impact studies for the project were fatally flawed.

Alonso’s decision came about the same time that Gov. Bruce Rauner announced that the state did not intend to proceed on the Illiana because of “the state’s current fiscal crisis and a lack of sufficient capital resources.”

In addition to the lack of funds to build the Illiana, there was a distinct lack of need. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning estimated that too few motorists would use the Illiana by 2040 to meet the financial guarantees to the private developers, leaving taxpayers to make up the difference.

Because of that shortfall, the agency predicted the Illiana could end up costing taxpayers “from $440 million to $1 billion.”

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Daily Herald: Is the Illiana Expressway project officially scuttled?

The Federal Highway Administration has dropped its objections to a judge’s ruling against the Illiana Expressway, which could mean the end of the road for the controversial project.

A federal judge in June called a Federal Highway Administration report and decision in favor of the controversial expressway “arbitrary and capricious.”

The proposed tollway would link I-55 in the south suburbs with I-65 in Indiana.

The highway administration filed a legal challenge but confirmed it was withdrawn Tuesday, delighting the Environmental Law and Policy Center which sued to stop construction of the Illiana.

“It’s time for the federal and state transportation agencies to now bring the boondoggle Illiana Tollway to an end,” Executive Director Howard Learner said in a statement.

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Daily Southtown: Federal Highway Administration won’t challenge Illiana court ruling

Illiana toll road proposal takes another hit

In a development that could be another nail in the coffin for the proposed Illiana toll road, the Federal Highway Administration no longer will challenge a federal court ruling that said environmental impact studies done for the project were flawed and illegal.

The highway administration has withdrawn its appeal of the June 16 ruling that found the agency’s 2013 endorsement of the 50-mile-long, two-state project was “arbitrary and capricious,” violated environmental laws and relied on faulty data to determine the need for the road.


Crain’s Chicago Business: Illiana suffers another big blow in U.S. court

The proposed Illiana Expressway has suffered another body blow, and this one could be fatal.

The Federal HIghway Administration moved late today to drop its appeal of a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Alonso’s June ruling tossing out the controversial road’s environmental impact statement and record of decision and ordering road advocates to start over. That action came as a bit of a surprise.

The agency didn’t explain its action, which came in a brief “unopposed motion to voluntarily dismiss appeal” that was filed with the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. But environmentalists who have opposed the road as a financial and ecological waste were ecstatic.

“The Illinois and Indiana Departments of Transportation should stop wasting taxpayers’ money on the llliana tollroad to nowhere that is contrary to sound regional planning and would damage the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie,” said Howard Learner, head of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, who served as lead counsel for several green groups who filed suit against the road.


Press Release: FHWA Withdraws Appeal of Court Decision Finding that Illiana Tollway Environmental Review was Illegal

For Immediate Release

September 22, 2015

 FHWA Withdraws Appeal of Court Decision Finding that Illiana Tollway Environmental Review was Illegal

ELPC Says the Illiana Tollway Boondoggle Should End Now

CHICAGO – The Federal Highway Administration is voluntarily dismissing its appeal of the Federal District Court’s June 16, 2015 decision holding that the federal and state transportation agencies’ approvals of the Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision were “arbitrary and capricious” and violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Administrative Procedure Act.

As a result, the Illinois Department of Transportation’s and Indiana Department of Transportation’s fundamentally flawed environmental impact statement process must start over and use much more realistic data.

Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center who serves as lead counsel for the Plaintiffs Midewin Heritage Association, Openlands and Sierra Club, said: “The Federal Highway Administration has withdrawn its appeal of the Federal District Court’s decision that invalidated the flawed environmental impact statement process for the proposed new Illiana Tollway.  It’s time for the federal and state transportation agencies to now bring the boondoggle Illiana Tollway to an end.”

“The Illinois and Indiana Departments of Transportation should stop wasting taxpayers’ money on the Illiana tollroad to nowhere that is contrary to sound regional planning and would damage the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie,” Learner added.

On June 16, 2015 Federal District Court Judge Jorge Alonso issued an Opinion and Order determining that IDOT’s plan to build the Illiana Tollway was based on analyses that are “fatally flawed.” The Court concluded that the agencies violated the National Environmental Policy Act and used a circular logic to make their initial case about how the proposed Illiana Tollway will lead to population growth and traffic demand. They assumed traffic growth would be the same regardless of whether the costly proposed new Illiana Tollway was ever built or not. The Court remanded the Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision to be redone in accordance with the decision and applicable law.






PBS EcoSense for Living Features ELPC Current and Former Staff Sarah Wochos and Curt Volkmann

The ninth episode of the PBS Series EcoSense for Living, “Power Pioneers: Reducing Our Carbon Footprint,” features Co-Legislative Director Sarah Wochos and former Clean Energy Finance Specialist Curt Volkmann.

Each episode in the half-hour series discusses a big-picture environmental concept, connects it to everyday life, and showcases active solutions across the country. Host Jennie Garlington interviews numerous experts in the environmental field to examine the leading edge of environmental solutions. In the ninth episode of the series, Wochos discusses the booming wind industry in Illinois and the potential for rooftop solar in Chicago. Volkmann discusses the increasing rate of electric vehicle adoption.

Watch the ninth episode here and check your local listings to keep up with the series.

New White Paper on “Repowering Chicago”

My new white paper, “Repowering Chicago: Accelerating the Cleaner, More Resilient and More Affordable Electricity Market Transformation,”  was commissioned by the University of Illinois-Chicago for its 2015 Urban Forum.  This forward-looking, strategic analysis and roadmap explains how Chicago and the Midwest are on the cusp of fundamental changes in the way that people and businesses obtain, supply and use electricity — and what that means for our economy and environment.  This analysis is specifically focused on Chicago, but it’s applicable to the Midwest and nationally.

Solar + Battery Storage + EE (especially LEDs) are disruptive technologies that will change the electricity system as much as wireless technologies have changed telecommunications and the ways that we live and work.  You’ve all heard some of the policy, market and technological change ideas from me over the years, and this White Paper pulls the specifics together into a bigger picture and vision.

This new electricity system transformation will be driven by technological innovation, more competition and choices, and much more clean renewable energy and energy efficiency.

I welcome your comments, edits, suggestions and ideas.

AP: Shedd bus drop-off site being monitored for diesel emissions

CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is participating in a study to determine if diesel emissions are too high at its bus turnaround.

The popular tourist attraction and the Environmental Law & Policy Center partnered in the project in August and September, collecting emissions data with a special monitor.

It’s part of a citywide effort to identify pollution hotspots and potential solutions.

The monitor is screening for microscopic diesel particles that can lodge deep in the lungs and heart. The ultrafine particles can contribute to heart and lung problem.

Shedd Aquarium is among several sites where monitors have been placed this summer and fall to assess local diesel pollutant levels.

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