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Let’s Revitalize the Chicago Pedway – Op-Ed in Crain’s Chicago Business

Let’s Revitalize the Chicago Pedway

Op-Ed by ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner

It’s a frigid Chicago winter day and downtown sidewalks are slushy and icy, or it’s a rainy summer day. What does a savvy Chicagoan do? Take the Pedway.

Want to go quickly from the CTA to City Hall, pick up coffee, and get a new watchband on the way? Take the Pedway. Looking for new art displays? Check out the Pedway. Entrepreneurs, there are available storefront opportunities with increased Pedway foot traffic.

The Chicago Pedway is an underutilized civic asset. It can be a great way to get around downtown, an engaging civic arts and culture space, and a good location for shops and restaurants.

If, today, someone proposed building a new underground Pedway, you’d ask, “How can we afford it?” The Chicago Pedway, however, is already built. Let’s leverage that investment with strategic actions to make it work better. Better navigation, better coordination and better activation.

Better navigation and wayfinding: Let’s face it—Pedway signs should be larger, eye-catching and more consistent; maps should be easier to understand and on smartphone apps; and directions should be clearer and easier to follow. Good wayfinding should connect Pedway users to above-ground locations and to the Riverwalk, Navy Pier, and transit and train stations. Better wayfinding and easier navigation tools, both above and along the Pedway, will encourage more pedestrian use. This should work well for everybody, not just “Pedway-niks.”

Better coordination: The Pedway maps as a continuous system, but it’s actually spliced-together segments owned by different public and private owners. Coordinating Pedway operating hours, lighting, accessibility and safety helps everybody: Metra commuters from the Millennium Park and Van Buren Metra stations, and CTA train riders going to City Hall and downtown office buildings; tourists going from east of Michigan Avenue hotels to Loop theaters and restaurants; and downtown workers and residents going from place to place. The recent Chicago Pedway Revitalization Study identified high-value repairs and upgrades for action.

Better activation: Better placemaking activates the Pedway and engages people. Pedway users shop at the retail spaces in Block 37 and Illinois Center, and Goodman Williams Group’s retail analysis shows growth potential for more pedestrian-friendly businesses and sales tax revenues. Space p11 is a new Pedway-level gallery for off-grid art, architecture and culture. The Chicago Loop Alliance sponsors Pop-Up activations, and Broadway in Chicago does pop-up holiday caroling and theater. The Vamonde smartphone app provides a fun adventure. The Pedway should be a lively and cool space.

My organization, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Broadway in Chicago and Chicago Loop Alliance are partnering with the city of Chicago, Cook County and building owners to repair and revitalize the Chicago Pedway.

Let’s seize the opportunities to improve pedestrian use and access. Let’s tap more retail business potential. Let’s make the Pedway a vibrant underground space for arts and culture for Chicagoans and visitors. We’ve done the heaviest lifting already by building the Pedway—now let’s use our imagination and take the practical steps to make it a great cityspace.

This post originally ran in Crain’s Chicago Business. Read the article HERE.

ELPC Sues US EPA for Compliance Plan to Reduce Phosphorus Pollution in Western Lake Erie

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Judith Nemes, (312) 795-3706, JNemes@elpc.org

ELPC Sues US EPA for Compliance Plan to Reduce Phosphorus Pollution That Creates Harmful Algae Blooms in Western Lake Erie

ELPC asks Court to keep EPA on Schedule to Clean Up Lake Erie

Toledo, OH – The Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) today filed a new related lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio challenging the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of an Ohio EPA July 2018 report as legally inadequate. The Ohio EPA’s 2018 report provided no effective plan for reducing phosphorus pollution into western Lake Erie which is now designated as “impaired” waters under the Clean Water Act.

ELPC and co-plaintiff Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie (ACLE) are seeking a judicial remedy providing a compliance plan to require progress on a specific timeline to reduce phosphorus pollution in western Lake Erie by 2025, and provide for public accountability. Phosphorus in manure and fertilizer runoff from agricultural sources is the principal cause of harmful algal blooms that have plagued Lake Erie for many years.

“The Clean Water Act provides a specific legal pathway to reduce phosphorus pollution causing harmful algae blooms in western Lake Erie, but U.S. EPA and Ohio EPA refuse to follow the law,” said Howard Learner, ELPC’s Executive Director. “The Court should require EPA to do its job well by promptly adopting and implementing an effective Clean Water Act plan to limit manure and fertilizer runoff that causes harmful algal blooms.”

The Clean Water Act requires an effective plan that implements a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) cap to limit pollution discharges into the Maumee River system, which flows into western Lake Erie. But Ohio EPA argues that it must only follow the non-binding Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement instead of a TMDL with enforceable regulatory standards.

Neither U.S. EPA nor Ohio EPA have followed the TMDL process to reduce pollution of manure from industrial animal feedlots and fertilizers from large agricultural operations that run off into rivers and streams that eventually result in phosphorus entering into Lake Erie.

“The Court has an important role to play in making sure Ohio doesn’t waste more time delaying effective measures to protect Lake Erie from pollution,” said Madeline Fleisher, ELPC Senior Attorney. “U.S. EPA isn’t holding the state accountable so we’re asking the court to do so.”

“The Clean Water Act is the law of the land, but Ohio keeps trying to escape its legal obligation to protect Lake Erie from factory farm pollution,” said Mike Ferner, a coordinator at ACLE. “The state has said western Lake Erie is one of its highest priorities, and the court shouldn’t let Ohio EPA and U.S. EPA get away with simply lip service.”

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A+ Team of Wisconsin Natural Resources Experts Oppose Huge Transmission Line That Endangers Scenic Driftless Area Values

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

A+ Team of Wisconsin Natural Resources Experts Oppose Huge Transmission Line That Endangers Scenic Driftless Area Values

Threats to Unique Landscape, Recreational Tourism and Fragile Ecosystems

Dodgeville, WI – Four of Wisconsin’s leading natural resources experts filed strong written comments opposing American Transmission Company’s (ATC) proposed huge Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line and 17-story towers that will cut a wide swath through the Driftless Area’s scenic landscapes, conservation lands, parklands, key waterways and other natural resource treasures. This is the wrong place for a huge transmission line that is not needed for electricity reliability.

The experts’ written comments were filed individually by January 4th with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. They were also submitted on behalf of the Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC) and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation (WWF) by public interest attorneys at the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which is serving as legal counsel for DALC and WWF.

According to DALC Executive Director David Clutter: “The Driftless Area is a nationally significant landscape that should be protected. This massive transmission line and its 17-story tall towers are not needed for reliability, and the Driftless Area should not be sacrificed for ATC’s profits.  We are pleased to have a superb team of natural resources experts weigh in on the importance of protecting and conserving a unique treasure in the Midwest.”

The natural resources expert team includes:

George Meyer, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and former Director of Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, stated:

“The Driftless Area and specifically the locations proposed to be traversed by the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line provide critical habitat for fish and wildlife. State, federal and local governments have invested over $100 million dollars in lands for fish and wildlife habitat, public access and recreational purposes including hunting, fishing, trapping, biking, hiking and birdwatching which generate scores of millions of dollars into the local and state economies. The value of these public lands will be significantly degraded by the construction of the proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line.”

Don Waller, Professor of Botany and Environmental Studies and former Department Chair at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, stated:

“As a professional conservation biologist, I am concerned about the environmental impacts of this proposed transmission line as I know this project would have both immediate and sustained deleterious impacts on plant, bird, and other animal populations in the region.”

Stephen Born, Emeritus Professor of Planning and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, stated:

“One of the greatest losses associated with a major transmission line across this special region is the degradation of scenic and amenity resources. Because these highly-valued scenic resources are among the surest victims of a huge transmission line, those impacts should be thoroughly and carefully assessed in the review process for the transmission line.”

Curt Meine, Senior Fellow at the The Aldo Leopold Foundation and Adjunct Faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, stated:

“We must strive together for energy solutions that do not sacrifice other conservation goals and degrade the quality of our land (in the Driftless Area). The decision on this proposed powerline is a test.  It will show if we as a society are willing to resist the easy path of expediency and short-term profit.”

The proposed 345 kV high-voltage transmission line is on a route cutting a wide path from Dubuque, Iowa, through the Upper Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Refuge, across protected conservation lands, wetlands, family farms, school district property and many sensitive natural areas in the Driftless Area. The huge transmission line routes would run through the protected Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area and Black Earth Watershed Conservation Area, and by Governor Dodge State Park and Blue Mounds State Park.

ATC is requesting a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Public Service Commission so that it can assert eminent domain in order to take private land for its expensive transmission line and high towers.

Howard Learner, Executive Director at the Environmental Law & Policy Center and one of the attorneys for DALC and the WWF said: “The Driftless Area is the wrong place for a huge transmission line, which is not needed for reliability in any case. The proposed costly transmission line is yesterday’s misguided way to meet future energy needs for people and businesses in Wisconsin.  There are better, cleaner, and more flexible solar energy, storage, wind power and energy efficiency resources in southwest Wisconsin that would create jobs and economic growth here instead of subsidizing out-of-state energy including fossil fuel generation.”

 

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Michigan approves first electric vehicle charging infrastructure program

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Nick Dodge, Byrum & Fisk Communications, (517) 333-1606

Judith Nemes, Environmental Law & Policy Center, (312)-795-3706

Michigan approves first electric vehicle charging infrastructure program

Michigan Public Service Commission approves PowerMiDrive initiative to advance charging infrastructure in Michigan

LANSING – Michigan’s first electric vehicle charging infrastructure program, Consumers Energy’s PowerMiDrive initiative, was approved today by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC). Charge Up Midwest, a coalition of organizations working to advance electric vehicles throughout the Midwest, worked closely with Consumers Energy and the MPSC as the pilot program was developed, and contributed to the proposed settlement agreement that preceded the MPSC’s order.

“We applaud the Public Service Commission and Consumers Energy for taking this important first step to advance electric vehicles in Michigan and keep our state on the cutting-edge of the rapidly changing mobility sector,” said Charles Griffith, climate and energy program director at the Ecology Center. “This program is the first of its kind in Michigan and will promote buildout of charging infrastructure, which is one of the key challenges facing electric vehicle advancement in Michigan.”

The PowerMiDrive pilot program has been in development for more than two years. Today’s decision at the MPSC is the culmination of a stakeholder workgroup process facilitated by the MPSC. The decision approves the initiation of a $10 million, three-year pilot program to support installations of EV charging infrastructure at homes and residences, multi-unit dwellings, workplaces, and other public locations, as well as fast-chargers along highway corridors. The program will utilize rebates and consumer education to encourage program participation, and encourage “off-peak” charging through the incorporation of time-of-use rates.  Today’s decision allocates an additional $2.5 million for the program from what was originally proposed by Consumers Energy.

“We want to make sure that the benefits of electric vehicles are available to everyone, including folks in apartment buildings or anyone that doesn’t own their own garage,” said Mark Nabong, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Consumers’ new program can help more people access electric cars as a clean, cheaper alternative to gasoline cars.”

Consumers Energy is not the only utility company with proposals to expand electric vehicle charging. DTE Energy currently has a $13 million pilot program for consideration before the MPSC. Michigan’s two major utility companies are taking significant steps to promote EV charging infrastructure in the state, and if DTE Energy’s proposal is approved, Michigan will have the most forward-looking electric vehicle charging program in the Midwest.

“Today’s decision puts Michigan on the road to cleaner air and a smarter grid by improving drivers’ access to our cleanest and cheapest fuel—electricity,” said Joe Halso, associate attorney with the Sierra Club.  “We look forward to more work with the Commission, Consumers Energy and stakeholders to implement PowerMIDrive and position Michigan as a leader when it comes to planning for an electric vehicle future.”

“The MPSC’s decision is a major win for Michigan utility customers who will benefit with lower rates because more charging will occur at night,” said Robert Kelter, senior attorney at the Midwest-based Environmental Law & Policy Center.

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Charge Up Midwest is a partnership of environmental and clean energy organizations actively working to increase electric vehicle deployment throughout the region in Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio. Visit www.ecocenter.org/charge-midwest to learn more.

 

Chicago Tribune Editorial: Should the Illinois Tollway keep spending this $25 million?

Should the Illinois Tollway keep spending this $25 million? 

By Editorial Board

Northern Illinois has its share of public works projects that have languished in the “planning stages” for years without ever seeing an inaugural bucket of concrete poured. Millions spent, nothing delivered. A third airport in Peotone comes to mind. So do the Iliana toll road and, for those with long memories, the Crosstown Expressway proposal of the 1960s and ’70s.

You probably can put the Route 53 extension on the same dusty shelf. Proposals for an expressway that would extend Route 53 into Lake County stretch back to the 1960s.

But now the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the arbiter over which transportation projects get whatever federal funding is available for the region, has taken the Route 53 extension off of its priority list. When you say “no federal funding,” you’ve said a lot.

Unbowed, the Illinois Tollway is forging ahead with a $25 million environmental study launched last year to help officials determine if the proposed toll road is needed to handle growth in Lake, northern Cook and eastern McHenry counties. The 25-mile extension would link up Arlington Heights in Cook County to Grayslake in Lake County, and widen a stretch of Route 120.

So while the already dim prospects for the project have grown ever dimmer, the Illinois Tollway is still spending the $25 million. Why?

Tollway officials say they hope this study will help bring finality to a half-century debate: Should this project be built or not? The officials say the study is examining a wide geographic area and not just the Route 53 corridor. Conceivably, the Route 53 extension or some other notion — improved arterial roads? — could emerge as a potential solution for the area’s traffic snarls. CMAP then could return the Route 53 extension or a replacement project to its priority list.

The question is whether those two “coulds” justify continuing to spend the $25 million. The Tollway by itself arguably can provide all the finality it wants: If CMAP is downgrading this idea, we’re finished spending money on it.

The Tribune’s Mary Wisniewski quotes former Tollway Director Bill Morris, of Grayslake, as calling the agency “irresponsible” for spending millions of dollars on yet another environmental study. Last year the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy organization, listed the Route 53 project, which if ever built would carry a price tag of $2.65 billion, on its roster of the nation’s most wasteful highway boondoggles.

Still, the proposed extension has always had influential friends. They include the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, a think tank whose board members represent the construction industry and labor unions — entities that stand to profit if the extension ever gets built. Proponents of the extension argue it would bring jobs and commerce to Lake County.

But for now the proposal to extend Route 53 is going nowhere.

Here’s free-of-charge advice for the directors of the Tollway:

Your chairman, Bob Schillerstrom, says the environmental study is in its early stage. Yes, your staff sincerely thinks spending this $25 million could — emphasis ours — eventually lead to some project that CMAP would rule eligible for federal funding. But to those of us who pay the tolls, that sounds like a $25 million hope that the study will justify spending gazillions on new concrete.

With all of that, why not give the Route 53 extension — or any new derivative of it — a well-deserved rest? Why not declare any such project comatose for now? Why not revive it if and when the localities involved agree on whatever road improvements they desire?

And why not admit that continuing to spend the $25 million doesn’t bring finality to this long debate. It only perpetuates it.

New Environmental Study of Proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line Improperly Rejects Alternatives

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Chuck Tenneson, charles@driftlessconservancy.org, 608-930-3252

Sarah Eddy, seddy@elpc.org, 312-795-3710

DODGEVILLE, Wis., Dec. 10, 2018 – The draft environmental impact statement (EIS) released recently by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) for the proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line includes only a cursory review of non-transmission alternatives to the high-voltage line such as greater energy efficiency, local renewables, and energy storage, despite requirements in federal law that alternatives be considered thoroughly. The draft EIS admits that non-transmission alternatives, along with lower-voltage and underground alternatives, were “not carried forward for detailed analysis.”

The proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line in southwest Wisconsin would cut a swath through the state’s scenic and ecologically unique Driftless Area. The cost of the project would be borne by electric ratepayers in Wisconsin and other states and energy experts have concluded that the new transmission line is not needed due to flattened demand for electricity in Wisconsin and recent advances in energy technology.

The costs and environmental damage that would be created by the transmission line has sparked opposition and legal challenges from local grassroots citizens and conservation groups. Wisconsin’s Dane and Iowa Counties voted to oppose the transmission line and have intervened in the Public Service Commission proceedings to fight the project.

“We wouldn’t think of putting a power line across the Grand Canyon, so why would we think of putting one through one of the most beautiful and unique landscapes in the Upper Midwest?” Said Dave Clutter, executive director of the Driftless Area Land Conservancy. “We have a national treasure in the Driftless Area, and we should treat it like one.”

“RUS is required by federal law to ‘rigorously explore and objectively evaluate all reasonable alternatives’ to proposed transmission lines like the Cardinal-Hickory Creek project,” said Howard Learner, one of the Environmental Law and Policy Center attorneys representing DALC. “RUS cannot simply look at different environmentally harmful routes for this huge transmission line and call it a day.”

“Iowa County residents have come together to adamantly oppose this unneeded high-voltage power line, which would irreversibly damage the landscape, ecology, and recreation economy we depend on,” said Betsy D’Angelo, a member of the Driftless Defenders’ leadership team. “There are alternatives that can improve our electric system without damaging the Driftless Area’s most important natural areas.”

“The draft environmental impact statement for the Cardinal-Hickory Creek project ignores the reality of new technology that has improved energy efficiency and decreased the demand for electricity,” said David Meylor, chairman of the Western Dane Preservation Campaign, the Mount Horeb area citizens group formed to oppose the line. “Recent analyses of electric demand demonstrate that the expensive, invasive Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line project simply isn’t needed.”

“The proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission line will have a significant negative impact on fish and wildlife habitat and the management of public lands in Southwestern Wisconsin and in light of other energy alternatives should not be constructed,” stated George Meyer, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

The proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line would install towers of up to 175-feet along a 100-mile route that would affect sensitive natural areas and disrupt economic activity. The project could cost ratepayers more than $1 billion during the life of the project, including a profit margin for the transmission line’s utility owners that is guaranteed by Wisconsin law.

Legal counsel for the Driftless Area Land Conservancy will be reviewing the RUS’s draft EIS in greater detail and will submit comprehensive public comments to the agency. Members of the public are strongly encouraged to submit comments before the deadline of Feb. 5, 2019.

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Issued by:

Driftless Area Land Conservancy

Driftless Defenders

Environmental Law and Policy Center

Western Dane County Preservation Campaign

Wisconsin Wildlife Federation

Iowa DOT announces more than $3 million in available funding for electric school buses

November 26, 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Kerri Johannsen, 515-244-0123 ext. 208

Peter Gray, 312-629-9400

Iowa DOT announces more than $3 million in available funding for electric school buses

Iowa school districts can apply now for VW settlement funding to purchase electric school buses

DES MOINES, IA — Iowa school children may soon breathe easier thanks to $3.15 million in funding for cleaner school, shuttle, and transit buses recently announced by the Iowa Department of Transportation. School districts that apply by Jan. 18 will be eligible to receive funding.

Iowa DOT is accepting grant applications for the first round of funding created by the Volkswagen Diesel scandal lawsuits. Iowa will receive a total of approximately $21 million to replace dirty diesel vehicles and equipment as a result of the settlements.

While multiple bus technologies are eligible for funding, the Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Iowa Environmental Council advocated for the funds to be used for electric school buses because they will create long-term savings for taxpayers while protecting children’s health and reducing air pollution. The operating cost of electric school buses is roughly half that of diesel buses due to lower fuel and maintenance costs. Investing VW settlement funds in electric buses will advance this emerging vehicle technology and help Iowa jump-start the transition to a cleaner transportation system.

Pollution from school buses has been shown to negatively affect children’s health and is a major source of school children’s exposure to black carbon. Diesel exhaust exacerbates asthma, the most common chronic health condition among U.S. children.

“Electric school buses make sense for our children’s health and our school districts’ budgets,” said Steve Falck, senior policy advocate for the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The Department of Transportation is making a smart move by helping put electric school buses on the road in Iowa.”

“School districts want the savings and clean air benefits that electric school buses create,” said Kerri Johannsen, energy program director with the Iowa Environmental Council. “This first round of funding will kick-start a new technology that creates long-term savings for Iowa communities.”

Multiple states are piloting programs that use electric school buses as a source of flexible energy storage to improve electric grid stability. Across the Midwest, more than $20 million in funding for electric school buses has been announced — Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio have all dedicated funds from the VW settlement to invest in electric school buses. Information on the Iowa funding opportunity is available at the program website, https://www.iowadot.gov/vwsettlement.

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The Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) is the Midwest’s leading public interest environmental legal advocacy organization. We develop and lead successful strategic environmental advocacy campaigns to protect our natural resources and improve environmental quality. Our multi-disciplinary staff employs a teamwork approach using legal, economic analysis, public policy advocacy and research, and communications tools to produce successes that improve both our environment and our economy. Learn more at ELPC.org.

The Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) is an alliance of diverse organizations and individuals working together to protect Iowa’s natural environment. Founded in 1995, it is the largest and most comprehensive environmental coalition in the state. Through education, advocacy and coalition building, the Council raises awareness, generates action and creates large-scale change that makes Iowa a better place to live, work and explore. Learn more at iaenvironment.org.

Howard Learner on the State of Solar in the Midwest

ELPC’s President and Executive Director, Howard Learner, joined SEIA’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Abigail Ross Hopper, November 14 at the Solar Power Midwest conference to discuss key trends facing the solar industry in the Midwest. There was a discussion on the state of distributed and utility-scale solar since the passage of critical energy legislation in Illinois and Michigan, how recent electoral outcomes factor into regional opportunities and challenges to solar, and how effective strategic partnerships can make solar a more dominant player in the Midwest energy landscape.

Howard closed the conversation with a call of optimism for the future of clean energy saying “We can blow through the 7GW of solar we have in the Midwest if we get the implementation right and seize the opportunities presented.”

Energywire: Board Shuts Down Vistra Effort to Fast-Track Coal Plant Ruling

Board shuts down Vistra effort to fast-track coal plant ruling

November 5, 2018

By Jeffrey Tomich

The Illinois Pollution Control Board denied a request by Vistra Energy Corp. to expedite new rules that would let the company run its dirtier and more profitable coal plants in the state more frequently.

In an order last week, the five-member board said the Irving, Texas-based power producer’s claims of “economic harms” didn’t justify an expedited rulemaking.

“The board is not convinced that the need to address wholesale energy market issues should control the substance or timing of proposed amendments to a substantive environmental regulation,” the six-page order said.

The order comes a month after the board proposed modifications to Illinois’ Multi-Pollutant Standard (MPS) that includes pollution limits for Vistra’s 18 coal units representing more than 5,000 megawatts (Energywire, Oct. 5).

The Pollution Control Board’s proposal is a sort of compromise between the power producer’s effort to get relief from existing emissions rules and critics, including Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) and a coalition of environmental groups, which want to keep existing standards in place.

Vistra had asked the board to finalize the rule change by Feb. 1, after which it would be subject to review by a legislative committee before taking effect. Madigan and environmental advocates challenged the request.

Vistra CEO Curt Morgan told analysts during a Friday conference call that the board’s proposal is “reasonable and fair” and he now expects a final outcome in April or May, after which the company could make decisions related to the future of its Illinois coal fleet.

The power producer has suggested it may shutter coal units in southern Illinois based on what executives view as inadequate capacity payments — payments made to ensure power plants are ready to run during periods of peak demand.

Morgan said Vistra is continuing work to “optimize” its Illinois portfolio and believes it can achieve a “reasonably significant” improvement in earnings from its Illinois plants. The company will be ready to act on that plan as soon as it gets an outcome from the Pollution Control Board.

“We’re going to be in a position to execute immediately,” Morgan said. “If the deal goes through the way it is now, we know what we would do. It’s just a matter of timing. But we also have been contingency planning, so if something else happened, then we would be prepared for that, as well.”

A possible wild card in the administrative rulemaking process? Politics.

Illinois voters will elect a governor tomorrow, and polls point to Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker defeating incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner.

Pritzker earlier this year criticized the rule proposed at Vistra’s request by the Illinois EPA.

In response to a questionnaire sent to candidates by the Chicago Sun-Times, the Democrat said of the proposed MPS rule change: “I will stand on the side of science and reason and not scrap limits on pollution.”

But would a new governor, during his first months in office and facing a fiscal crisis, step in and derail an administrative rule initiated by his predecessor?

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, one of the groups challenging Vistra’s petition, believes a Pritzker administration would reassess the state’s position on the rule proposal.

“You’re dealing with a proposal that came from the Illinois EPA,” he said.

While the board wouldn’t explicitly seek out a new governor’s stance before issuing a ruling, Learner said he believes this week’s election will provide important context for their decision.

“They’ll be interested to hear what [the administration’s] position is if a new governor is elected,” he said.

READ FULL STORY

Inside Climate News: Can Illinois Handle a 2000% Jump in Solar Capacity? We’re About to Find Out

Can Illinois handle a 2000% jump in solar capacity? We’re about to find out

October 30, 2018

By Dan Gearino

Illinois is about to learn what it takes to manage a nearly 20-fold increase in solar power.

A new state law requires utilities to dramatically increase their purchases of renewable energy, with a goal of getting at least 25 percent of the state’s electricity from clean energy by 2025, a large part of it from solar.

For a state starting with very little solar power now—less than 100 megawatts—becoming a Midwest solar leader will mean building an industry infrastructure almost from scratch, and doing it fast.

To ramp up by the deadline, the state needs two things: workers and projects.

People involved in the effort describe an atmosphere of almost chaotic progress. State officials and clean energy advocates want Illinois to be a model for how to expand clean energy in a way that provides targeted help to the local communities.

“The stakes are high,” said David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, a Chicago-based consumer advocacy group involved in the process. “I think we have a good plan and we have reasons to be optimistic in general, but there’s no question we’ll face some roadblocks and things we didn’t think of.”

Hundreds of people have enrolled in job-training programs across the state, organized by nonprofit groups as part of the law. Developers are submitting proposals for new solar projects. And some of the established developers are starting to complain that the process for selecting projects—designed to give a wide number of developers a chance—is flawed.

Catapulting Illinois to a Midwest Solar Leader

Illinois ranks 35th in the country in solar power right now, with 98 megawatts, less than 1 percent of its electricity generation. Development has been slow here in part because the state lacks the supportive policies from the government and utilities that have boosted solar elsewhere.

Five years from now, analysts expect to see nearly 2,000 megawatts of solar power in Illinois and the state in 17th place nationally, according to Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables and the Solar Energy Industries Association. No other state has Illinois’ combination of starting from so low and being on track to rise so high during that period.

“It’s going to catapult Illinois to the forefront of the solar market, and put our state on the path to the renewable future we need to limit the worst impacts of climate change,” said MeLena Hessel, policy advocate for the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

This boom in renewable energy stems from the state’s Future Energy Jobs Act, a 2016 law that provided subsidies for two nuclear power plants and also set the target to get 25 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2025, among other requirements. The renewable energy provisions were part of a legislative compromise to get enough votes to approve the nuclear power subsidies. (The law was upheld by a federal court in September.)

READ FULL STORY

 

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