Illinois

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Ameren Illinois customers could pay for Exelon’s nuclear plants

Ameren Illinois customers could pay more to keep three nuclear power plants outside of Southern Illinois profitable for Chicago-based Exelon Corp.

Illinois legislation backed by the nuclear power giant that also runs Chicago utility ComEd could add about $2 per month to the bills of utility customers — even Ameren Illinois customers who buy much of their power from coal power plants downstate.

The measure is one of several energy-related bills bouncing around Springfield as the legislative session winds to a close this month. Another bill, the so-called “Clean Jobs Bill,” is backed by a large coalition of clean-energy and efficiency advocates, and there’s also smart-meter legislation for the Chicago area and the possibility of new rules requiring power plants to use more Illinois coal.

Observers say a large energy package could come out of the Legislature before the end of the year, if not this session. A recent Illinois Supreme Court ruling invalidating a pension reform measure has lawmakers scrambling to plug a giant hole in the budget by the end of the month, but many expect an energy package to be negotiated during the fall veto session.

“It’s very typical when we have competing bills that they all will come together for a common resolution,” said Senate President Pro Tem Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, the chief sponsor of the Clean Jobs Bill.

The Exelon bill pending in Springfield would require the state’s utilities — ComEd in northern Illinois and Ameren Illinois downstate — to deliver 70 percent of their power from “low-carbon” sources. They could offset that cost with a surcharge on customer bills, capped at around 2 percent.

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Detroit Free Press: S.S. Badger cleared for sailing by EPA

Two years after striking a deal to keep the last coal-fired ship on the Great Lakes operating, federal regulators this week declared the S.S. Badger in compliance with an order that it stop dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan, clearing it for a new sailing season beginning today.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said an inspection of the Badger — a historic carferry which makes about 450 trips between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wis., during a 6-month season each year — showed it had “taken all the steps necessary” to stop discharging coal ash into the lake.

“Victory!” said a statement today by the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, which had pressured the government to address the hundreds of tons of coal ash the 63-year-old Badger was dumping into Lake Michigan each year. “All bad things should come to an end, and this water pollution is. … Step-by-step, our Great Lakes are getting cleaner.”

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Victory! No More SS Badger Toxic Coal Ash Dumping into Lake Michigan

Victory!  Today, the SS Badger car ferry is scheduled to go across Lake Michigan from Manitowoc, WI to Ludington, MI with a new coal ash containment system in place. All bad things should come to an end, and this water pollution is.  This summer, the SS Badger will not be dumping nearly 1,000,000 pounds of toxic coal ash into Lake Michigan.  Step-by-step, our Great Lakes are getting cleaner.

This is a significant step in the right direction for reducing toxic pollution of the Great Lakes. It reaffirms the principle that no business should be permitted to use the Great Lakes as a dumping ground for toxics.

This victory follows a strong campaign led by the Environmental Law & Policy Center with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and our good partner colleagues at the Alliance for the Great Lakes, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and others.

The 60-year-old SS Badger is the last coal-burning ship on the Great Lakes. For too many years, the resulting coal ash – containing toxic materials – has been discharged into Lake Michigan. Pressure from ELPC, our allies and the public led to an action by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that resulted in a binding consent decree requiring SS Badger operators to capture and then lawfully dispose of the toxic coal ash without dumping any into Lake Michigan.

Following the consent decree, SS Badger operators installed new digital combustion controls that enable the ship to run more efficiently, burning about 15% less coal on its trips from Manitowoc, WI to Ludington, MI.  They also installed a new retention system that moves the coal ash along a conveyor belt between the ship’s boilers and four containment bins. Those bins are later moved to an appropriate land-based site, possibly for re-sale as a cement filler. This kind of “encapsulated reuse” is one of the better scenarios for handling toxic coal ash.

This has been tough sledding. Working together, we have brought to an end the SS Badger’s dumping of toxic coal ash into Lake Michigan.

Crain’s Chicago Business: Illinois energy politics spill over to Maryland, with Exelon deal in balance

As the deadline nears for Maryland utility regulators to rule on Exelon’s proposed buyout of Pepco Holdings, energy politics in Illinois are playing an improbable starring role.

Maryland officials, who staunchly oppose the $6.8 billion tie-up on fears that Pepco will be induced to support anti-consumer policies favoring Exelon’s unregulated power plants, are pointing to legislation that Exelon-owned Commonwealth Edison is pushing in Illinois as key evidence backing their argument.

ComEd added that bill in March to the stew of energy proposals already simmering in Springfield. Chicago’s electric utility says the series of initiatives in its legislation is aimed at fostering growth in clean energy and energy efficiency, as well as enhancing reliability.

The Maryland Energy Administration, along with the Maryland attorney general, sees it differently.

ComEd’s bill “is riddled with anti-consumer provisions, and would implement a vision of the ‘future’ in which Exelon’s distribution utilities will be able to control the pace of (distributed generation, i.e., solar panels on rooftops) penetration—thereby protecting the value of Exelon’s central station generation,” Maryland officials wrote in May 1 testimony filed by Attorney General Brian Frosh with the Maryland Public Service Commission. “If this merger is approved, Exelon will own the distribution companies that serve all of the Mid-Atlantic’s major urban centers, and there should be little doubt that it will attempt to bring the Illinois ‘model’ to Maryland.”

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Sun-Times Editorial: How to Make Illinois Greener and Save on Power Bills

Available at: http://chicago.suntimes.com/politics/7/71/583197/editorial-make-illinois-greener-save-power-bills

Back in 2008, Illinois raised its energy efficiency standards, rewarding electricity ratepayers who, for example, used energy-efficient light bulbs or better insulated their factories.

As result since then, all consumers have saved more than $1 billion.

A new Illinois Clean Jobs Bill, now pending in the state Legislature, would raise those standards even higher and, ideally, use the greater savings to pay for an increase in the amount of renewable energy used in Illinois, while still returning money to consumers. It’s likely this bill will be tweaked before a final vote, but the concept is sound, which is why it’s supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and an array of environmental, consumer and labor groups.

Illinois already has committed itself to using solar, wind and other renewables — as opposed to, say, coal or nuclear energy — for at least 25 percent of its energy by 2025. The new legislation, which has companion versions in the Illinois House and Senate, would raise that to 35 percent by 2030. It’s a reasonable goal. As the New York Times reported Wednesday, Germany in 15 years has already converted 30 percent of its energy sources to solar and wind.

Although renewable energy costs more today than other power sources, the Citizens Utility Board estimates consumers would come out ahead by $1.6 billion by 2030. That would be a $98 annual savings for the average residential ratepayer. CUB says $1.6 billion is its mid-range estimate and that savings could go as high as $2.2 billion. A separate analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists also predicts substantial savings.

We’re not so sure regular homeowners will rush out to buy smart appliances, like programmable dishwashers and dryers, that can save money by shifting shift energy use to non-peak periods, such as the middle of the night. But because of the complicated way energy pricing works — with peak use driving the rates — CUB says even people who don’t do anything on their own will save money.

Ratepayers in the Chicago area have saved money under the current law through a ComEd energy conservation program that subsidizes such things as heating, ventilation and new technologies. As the Rev. Booker Steven Vance told the Sun-Times Editorial Board last month, the program has been a particular benefit in lower-income communities.

But the program’s funding is capped. The new law eliminates the cap, making more energy efficiency initiatives possible. The law also requires utilities such as ComEd to prove that the new initiatives it undertakes are cost effective.

Another arguable benefit to this legislation is that it would bring jobs to the state, according to a survey released this week by the Clean Energy Trust. The survey found Illinois already has more than 100,000 jobs in the clean energy sector, and has experienced growth of 7.8 percent in the last 15 months. That survey, though, fails to consider that other jobs would be lost as less fossil fuel and nuclear energy is used.

ComEd and Exelon have introduced separate bills, and the Downstate utility Dynegy is buttonholing legislators with concerns of its own. Exelon has a vested interested in the continued use of nuclear energy, of course, as does Dynegy with coal. There is a strong possibility all three of these measures will wind up in a single omnibus bill.

But it is crucial that the end result is a balanced Illinois Clean Jobs Bill that promotes a cleaner environment in a way that does not drive up electricity bills.

Press Release: Groups Appeal Water Pollution Permit for Waukegan Coal Plant on Lake Michigan

Groups Site Unlawful Permit Provisions that Give Coal Plant a Free Pass to Pollute

Click Here to View Appeal filed at the Illinois Pollution Control Board

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 29, 2015

Judith Nemes, JNemes@elpc.org, 312-795-3706

 

WAUKEGAN, Ill. – Today, the Sierra Club, Environmental Law & Policy Center and other environmental organizations appealed Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s (IEPA) water pollution permit for NRG’s Waukegan coal plant. The permit, the groups argue, falls far short of implementing necessary protections for Lake Michigan.

The current permit allows NRG to continue running the 57-year-old Waukegan coal plant as-is rather than making long-overdue upgrades to the plant’s intake and discharge system. The plant has been operating with a permit last issued 14 years ago.

“By allowing NRG to skirt the issue of real technological upgrades to this old plant, IEPA is permitting the Waukegan plant to pollute at the same high rate for at least another five years,” said Greg Wannier, attorney with the Sierra Club. “IEPA has no legal authority to extend NRG’s variance, which avoids a law designed to protect the delicate and critical ecosystem found in Lake Michigan. As Lake Michigan adapts to even more stressors brought on by climate disruption, IEPA has an obligation to implement the law in a way that best protects the lake.”

In the appeal, the organizations call for the IEPA to revoke the final permit and to reissue with limits necessary to protect Lake Michigan in compliance with the Clean Water Act. Through its permitting process, the IEPA is responsible for ensuring the Waukegan plant minimizes Lake Michigan fish kills caused by its intake structures like the one used at the Waukegan plant. New limits would require “closed-cycle” cooling, which would almost eliminate those impacts to aquatic life.

The Waukegan coal plant currently operates using an outdated system known as once-through cooling. The system consists of a large pipe that draws freshwater into the plant for cooling, cleaning and moving coal ash out of the plant’s boiler. According to a 2011 Chicago Tribune report, the intake pipe at Waukegan is responsible for killing 5.2 million fish per year

Massive heat transfers occur as the lake water passes through the plant, and it is then discharged back into Lake Michigan at significantly elevated temperatures. The permit allows 5 million gallons of Lake Michigan water to go through this “once-through” process every day. Technology can reduce this impact by 98 percent, yet despite its widespread use, IEPA and NRG passed on the technology in favor of continuing a 37-year old variance allowing the plant to continue discharging piping hot water into Lake Michigan.

“Every year, the Waukegan coal plant kills millions of fish and other aquatic life from Lake Michigan.  No fishing license would allow such an abuse of this resource, but IEPA has given NRG a license to kill, without even requiring the application that’s required by law,” said Jessica Dexter, staff attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “NRG is a relatively new arrival to our shores, so we urge them to take more seriously their responsibility to be good stewards of Lake Michigan.”

“Over 100 community members from the Waukegan area came out to testify in 2013 on the IEPA’s draft permit for this plant, and I’m proud  that our engagement won some improvements,” said Mitch Siegel, Waukegan resident with the Clean Power Lake County Campaign. “However, the permit still falls short of what’s needed to protect Lake Michigan and NRG Energy is avoiding long-overdue upgrades to the plant that its predecessor Midwest Generation also avoided. With a new company, we expect a new approach.”

The outdated cooling system is just one of the concerns regarding water pollution linked to the Waukegan coal plant. In 2012, Sierra Club, ELPC, Prairie Rivers Network and CARE filed an enforcement case for groundwater contamination at all of NRG’s coal plants, including Waukegan.  At Waukegan, samples taken by the coal plant’s previous owner, Midwest Generation, indicate that coal ash waste from the coal ash impoundments has seeped into groundwater, contaminating the water with pollutants such as arsenic, boron and sulfate at levels above primary Safe Drinking Water Act Maximum Contaminant Limits. In March, the groups updated the complaint after previously undisclosed ash dumps were discovered on the site.   The proximity of the ash ponds to Lake Michigan makes many community members concerned about preventing further seepage.

Additionally, from 2002 through 2010, Midwest Generation reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it released more than 1,000 pounds of toxins into surface waters surrounding its Waukegan coal-fired power plant. There are no federal protections that limit discharged toxins from coal plants into bodies of water. The US EPA is currently reviewing new standards to set such limits which are expected to be finalized in August of 2015.

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Chicago Sun-Times Editorial: Exelon’s rate-hike proposal is a bad bill

Exelon, which operates six nuclear power plants in Illinois, says it needs help because — although it made more than $2 billion last year —  it has lost about $1 billion in the past five years on three of its plants: Clinton, Quad Cities and Byron. The nuclear plants are having a hard time competing in the marketplace partly because plentiful supplies have driven down the price of natural gas.

The utility says it is unwilling to run any nuclear plant at a loss, though its nuclear fleet is profitable overall. It says Illinois needs all of its nuclear plants for reliability and low-carbon power generation. It also warns that 8,000 jobs in Illinois would be lost if the plants were shuttered.

To save the three plants, then, Exelon wants to raise electricity bills by $300 million a year under what it calls a market-based plan that would benefit all types of low-carbon generators of energy, including solar, wind and nuclear. The company says it is asking only for the same favorable treatment renewable energy gets.

The problem, critics accurately say, is that the bill is designed to funnel the new money into Exelon’s pockets while doing almost nothing to help generators of renewable energy.

Before Exelon digs deeper into your wallet, let’s demand at least a limited look at its balance sheet. The company says it has provided such information to legislative leaders, but does that give you much confidence? You, the ratepayers who would have to pony up, deserve a look-see, too.

Second, how is it Exelon can say it is unfair, when sizing up this bill, to consider the profitability of the company’s nuclear fleet as a whole, though all ratepayers — including Chicagoans who get their electrical power from profitable plants — would be forced to pay the surcharge? There is a feeling here of a company trying to socialize the risks while keeping the profits private.

Third, any low-carbon bill that emerges out of Springfield cannot favor Exelon. Renewable energy is the future, and the state should be making that a priority, not nuclear plants. It’s not prudent to put renewable energy at a disadvantage.

Exelon’s bill, which has both House and Senate versions, is one of three energy-related proposals on the docket in his session. Possibly, it will be rolled with others into an omnibus bill.

Whatever emerges must put ratepayers first. And it must not undercut our state’s truly green energy future.

WBEZ Worldview: Earth Day Quiz

Chicago Tribune: Environmentalists seek to overturn federal approval of Illiana toll road

Environmentalists want the federal government to overturn its decision to approve the Illiana toll road project, in light of new and “compelling” evidence, they said.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center, Midewin Heritage Association, Sierra Club and a dozen others sent a letter with 40 pages of documentation to the Federal Highway Administration, citing four main reasons it should “withdraw and reconsider” its Record of Decision issued in December.

The decision was “based on outdated information,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “We have four solid arguments that stand on their own and in combination as to why they should reconsider this decision in a serious and respectful way.”

Learner admitted it is “not par for the course” for the federal agency to reconsider a decision, “but not much about Illiana is par for the course,” he said. “Rarely are they presented with facts like this.”

Their four reasons include substantial negative impacts on the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, exaggerated population forecasts, lack of viable financing, and Gov. Bruce Rauner’s suspension of the project — all of which were not realized when the Federal Highway Administration issued its record of decision in December.

The U.S. Forest Service, which operates Midewin, sent a letter in March and again this month to the highway administration, clarifying its position and stating that construction of the Illiana would result in “irreparable injury to grassland bird habitat at Midewin.”

The proposed 50-mile toll road, from Interstate 55 in Wilmington to I-65 in Lowell, Indiana, would run along the southern edge of the restored prairie.

“I do not agree with the (highway administration) view that the Illiana ‘will not substantially impair’ Midewin,” wrote Wade Spang, prairie supervisor at Midewin.

Secondly, the group’s letter cited recent evidence that the Illinois Department of Transportation never disclosed a report last year from Fitch Ratings, a major bond rating agency, that it would not give the state an investment grade rating for bonds for the Illiana, indicating that the project had a high risk of default through a private-public partnership.

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ELPC’s Founding Vision is Becoming Today’s Sustainability Reality

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ELPC’s Founding Vision is Becoming Today’s Sustainability Reality

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ELPC’s Founding Vision is Becoming Today’s Sustainability Reality

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ELPC’s Founding Vision is Becoming Today’s Sustainability Reality

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ELPC’s Founding Vision is Becoming Today’s Sustainability Reality

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ELPC’s Founding Vision is Becoming Today’s Sustainability Reality

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ELPC’s Founding Vision is Becoming Today’s Sustainability Reality

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