Illinois

ELPC Applauds (IL) Lake County Board Decision to End Pursuit of Route 53 Extension

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 12, 2019

 

Environmental Law & Policy Center Applauds Lake County Board Decision to End Pursuit of Route 53 Extension

“This is a big victory and turning point for better transportation solutions in Lake County and the Chicago region”

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

In response to the Illinois Tollway’s request to the Federal Highway Administration to rescind the Notice of Intent for the Tri-County Access Environmental Impact Statement, which effectively ends efforts to create a Route 53 extension north of Lake Cook Road, ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner said:

“This is a big victory and turning point for better transportation solutions in Lake County and the Chicago region. The Illinois Tollway has thrown in the towel, and the Lake County Board has de-prioritized the Route 53 extension, which isn’t financially viable and the public doesn’t want. Together, they are bringing this boondoggle and environmentally destructive tollway to its well-deserved end.

“Let’s acknowledge that the Route 53 tollway seems to have nine lives, but hopefully this is the last.”

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IL Pollution Control Board Advances Controversial Coal Pollution Rule for Vistra Energy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Pollution Control Board Advances Controversial Coal Pollution Rule for Vistra Energy

Environmental and Community groups’ welcome Pritzker improvements to Rauner pollution rule but call for stronger pollution reduction plans from Administration

CHICAGO – Today, the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB) approved a rulemaking initiated in 2017 under the Rauner Administration that allows Vistra Energy, the Texas-based owner of Illinois largest coal plant fleet, greater flexibility to operate its plants with less stringent, state pollution standards. Since proposed, the revisions to one of Illinois’ signature air pollution standards, known as the Multi-Pollutant Standard (MPS), generated significant public opposition across the state and drew greater speculation on the close ties Rauner’s IEPA Director had with polluting industries though important improvements were made to the original proposal by both the IPCB and new IEPA leadership under the Pritzker Administration, environmental and community groups continue to seek stronger standards.

The new emissions caps change the existing standards based on emissions rates to a total tonnage standard which environmental and community advocates argue is less protective and will allow Vistra to shutter plants with pollution controls while continuing to operate its dirtiest plants without installing modern pollution controls. Those advocates contend that this could result in some communities seeing greater pollution from the plants that remain open and continue to operate without modern pollution controls. Notable improvements in the final approved proposal include lower emissions caps than originally proposed by Rauner’s IEPA, cap reductions if Vistra seeks to shutter or sell power plants, and a requirement to retire 2,000 MWs of its Illinois coal generation by the end of 2019.

The approval comes on the heels of yesterday’s federal rollback of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. The alternative plan, dubbed the “Dirty Power Plan” by advocates, is little more than a giveaway to the coal industry. With rollbacks at the federal level, state action becomes all the more important and advocates urge the Pritzker administration to take stronger action.

 In response to the IPCB’s decision, the Central Illinois Healthy Community Alliance, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Illinois Environmental Council, Illinois Peoples’ Action, Metro East Green Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, Illinois Sierra Club, Respiratory Health Association, Prairie Rivers Network, and Union of Concerned Scientists issued the following joint statement:

“We’re pleased to see that important improvements to this rulemaking were won today by the thousands of Illinois residents who spoke out in opposition to this ill-conceived rule from the Rauner Administration and Vistra Energy. However, as President Trump continues to rollback federal environmental protections, Illinois should be leading with far more aggressive pollution standards on power plants instead of granting greater flexibility to a Texas fossil fuel corporation.

“We welcome Vistra Energy’s commitment to retire some of its Illinois plants–that it has said for years were likely to retire–but the new standards still allow Vistra to close plants with modern pollution controls and continue running its dirtiest plants without any modern upgrades which will leave frontline communities in Illinois at risk.

“As these out-of-state coal corporations continue to demand coal bailouts from state regulators and legislators, it’s critical that the Pritzker Administration and Illinois officials step up with stronger leadership to deliver more aggressive pollution reductions from aging power plants and plans to invest in Illinois coal workers and communities that will inevitably be left behind by these out-of-state corporations.”

 

 

 

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IL Pollution Control Board Finds NRG Energy’s Subsidiary Responsible for Polluting Groundwater with Toxic Coal Ash

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Illinois Pollution Control Board Finds NRG Energy’s Subsidiary Responsible for Violating Illinois Groundwater Standards with Toxic Coal Ash Contaminants

Environmental groups’ lawsuit hailed as a historic victory for clean water in four communities; puts state coal plant operators on notice

CHICAGO – Today the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB) agreed with environmental groups in their lawsuit against Midwest Generation, LLC, a subsidiary of NRG Energy, alleging that four of its coal power plants contaminated groundwater with harmful chemicals found in coal ash. The pollution at those four coal power plants, located in Waukegan, Joliet, Pekin, and Will County, put the densely populated communities around the plants at risk. This is a major victory in a case started in 2012 by the environmental groups (Sierra Club, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Prairie Rivers Network, and Citizens Against Ruining the Environment).

The IPCB agreed with the groups’ claim that the contaminants from coal ash at the power plants, including arsenic, boron, sulfate, and other chemicals, routinely exceeded water quality standards and, thus, violated the Illinois Environmental Protection Act. The groups alleged that NRG Energy’s subsidiary Midwest Generation, which has owned or operated the four power plants since 1999, knew about coal ash contaminants both in and outside coal ash ponds and failed to prevent groundwater contamination.

The next step in this case will be a determination of remedy. The environmental groups will fight for the most stringent remedy possible, including a demand for removal of coal ash dumps at the coal power plants.

“Today is a huge victory for Waukegan residents who have fought for years to see corporations like NRG Energy held accountable for the toxic waste that has been illegally dumped on our Lake Michigan lakefront,” said Dulce Ortiz, Waukegan resident and Co-Chair of Clean Power Lake County. “The Pollution Control Board’s decision is a sharp rebuttal to NRG and Midwest Generation’s claims that they weren’t responsible for groundwater contamination from its dangerous coal ash waste. It’s critical that NRG is required to remove its toxic ash from our lakefront.”

“Today’s decision is a historic win for Citizens’ Against Ruining the Environment and Will County residents who have carried the burden of living next to NRG’s aging power plants and toxic coal ash waste for decades,” said Ellen Rendulich, Romeoville resident and Director of Citizens Against Ruining the Environment. “Our communities deserve to have this out-of-state corporation’s waste removed from these sites and NRG must be responsible for this clean up.”

“There is a moral obligation to ensure that polluters are held accountable for the impact they have on the groundwater of Illinois communities,” said Faith Bugel, Attorney for Sierra Club. “ The Board’s decision calls NRG out, and we urge the Board to impose a remedy that holds out-of-state companies accountable for cleaning up the pollution they dump in Illinois.”

“The Board’s decision affirms the broad scope of the Illinois Environmental Protection Act’s prohibition on water pollution and puts owners or operators of sites with coal ash on notice of their obligation to not pollute groundwater,” said Jeffrey Hammons, Attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Companies that run afoul of Illinois’ groundwater quality standards due to their improper handling of coal ash do so at their own peril.”

“The owners of these plants tried to deny that the groundwater was contaminated, and they even tried to deny that they knew anything about all of the coal ash buried across their properties,” said Abel Russ, Senior Attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project, which represented Prairie Rivers Network before the Board. “The reality is that coal ash on their property continues to contaminate groundwater. We are pleased and grateful that the Board could see through the smokescreen, and that they chose to stand up for Illinois’ natural resources.”

“Today’s decision is an important step in holding polluters accountable for their coal ash messes,” said Andrew Rehn, Water Resources Engineer at Prairie Rivers Network. “NRG’s coal ash ponds at Waukegan, Joliet, Pekin, and Will County have been polluting our groundwater for years. We hope that the Illinois Pollution Control Board makes NRG remove the coal ash dumps on their property and store it in safe facilities.”

 

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Illinois House and Senate Pass Landmark Legislation to Clean up Coal Ash

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Al Grosboll, Environmental Law & Policy Center, AGrosboll@elpc.org,

Illinois House and Senate Pass Landmark Legislation to Clean up Coal Ash
Bill addresses coal ash impoundments plaguing the state for decades

SPRINGFIELD, IL—Today the Illinois Legislature passed SB9, The Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act, which now heads to the Governor’s desk. The groundbreaking bill addresses the many waste pits filled with coal ash, the toxic byproduct of burning coal, located all over the state. Illinois is now the third state in the country to pass legislation providing significant coal ash protections above and beyond federal requirements.

The legislation creates a regulatory framework to ensure polluters, not taxpayers, pay for needed closure and cleanup, guarantees public participation and transparency around cleanups for affected communities, and provides Illinois EPA the funds it needs to properly oversee closure and cleanup. It also requires Illinois to put in place standards for coal ash impoundments that are at least as protective as federal coal ash rule requirements, with additional protections against dust and water pollution.

SB9 amends the Illinois Environmental Protection Act and was sponsored by State Sen. Scott Bennett (D-Champaign). State Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Champaign) sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives. A large coalition of activists from around Illinois championed the legislation that will now proceed to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk to be signed into law, including; Central Illinois Healthy Communities Alliance, Citizens Against Longwall Mining, Citizens Against Ruining the Environment, Clean Power Lake County, Earthjustice, Eco-Justice Collaborative, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Faith in Place Action Fund, Illinois Environmental Council, Illinois People’s Action, Metro-East Green Alliance, Prairie Rivers Network, Protect the Middle Fork, Sierra Club Illinois Chapter, and Springfield Clean.

Illinois has the highest concentration of coal ash impoundments in the country. The Illinois EPA has found groundwater contamination from coal ash waste sites dating back to 2009. A 2018 report from environmental groups Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, Prairie Rivers Network and Sierra Club analyzing data collected by ash dump owners under the federal coal ash rule found that 22 of 24 of Illinois’ reporting coal ash dumpsites have unsafe levels of toxic pollutants in the groundwater. Illinois joins Virginia and North Carolina in addressing coal ash through state level legislation.

“Coal ash represents a clear and present danger to water quality and human health,” said Al Grosboll, Legislative Director at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “These problems have been ignored for too long. SB 9 is the right response and represents the most important environmental protection measure for Illinois in recent years.”

Additional Coalition Quotes:

Legislators

“Illinois has a toxic coal ash problem and, as a state, we’ve been slow to addressing it,” Senator Bennett (D-Champaign) said. “If we don’t act now, this toxic byproduct will be a part of our state’s environment for generations. We cannot afford to stand by while coal ash pollution threatens our water and our future.”

“For too long Illinois has simply reacted to crisis, without doing anything to get in front of the problem and avoid it,” said Representative Ammons (D-Champaign). “The passage of SB9 provides us with the protections, regulations, and financial assurances that we need to prevent more coal ash crises in Illinois.”

Statewide Partner Organizations

“Illinois legislators have taken a strong stand to protect communities from the dangers of toxic coal ash,” said Earthjustice Attorney Jenny Cassel. “This legislation makes polluters pay for cleaning up the mess they created instead of making taxpayers foot the bill. It also makes sure the public can give input in the cleanup of the toxic waste in their backyards so we can be sure it’s done right. The legislature did its part. Now it’s time for Governor Pritzker to sign it into law.”

“Today’s vote is a historic moment in the Illinois General Assembly protecting public health and our environment,” said Colleen Smith, legislative director for the Illinois Environmental Council. “This bill will hold polluters accountable for the harms their toxic waste has caused in communities across the state and ensure communities aren’t stuck footing the bill.”

“After years of inaction, Illinois will finally be taking steps to protect the public from the environmental and financial threats posed by coal ash ponds,” said Andrew Rehn, Water Resources Engineer with Prairie Rivers Network. “Thanks to our bill sponsors Senator Scott Bennett and Representative Carol Ammons for tackling this urgent problem.”

“Sierra Club Illinois applauds the General Assembly for passing this historic bill to protect Illinois communities and waterways from toxic coal ash waste that has been contributing to groundwater contamination across this state for too many years. It’s critical that we protect Illinois taxpayers from the clean up costs that profitable companies like NRG and Vistra should be responsible for if they do business in Illinois,” said Joyce Blumenshine, Conservation Chair for the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club.

“The passage of SB9 is a historical win for Environmental Justice Communities throughout our state,” said Celeste Flores, with the Faith In Place Action Fund. “People of faith across Illinois applaud the leadership of our elected leaders in the Senate and House for taking action on coal ash contamination of our land and water and implore the general assembly to continue to hold polluters accountable for injustice, oppression, and environmental degradation. We look forward to celebrating this victory with Environmental Justice Communities when Governor Pritzker signs this bill into law.”

Regional Partner Organizations

Alton, Metro-East

Metro East Green Alliance is thrilled that the Coal Ash Pollution Prevent Act has passed the Illinois Legislature,said Toni Oplt of the Metro-East Green Alliance. “Our communities along the Mississippi River are directly threatened by the coal ash ponds at the shuttered Dynegy-Vistra power plant in Wood River, IL., which sit on a flood plain where water is currently rising. SB9 will give our community a voice in future decisions of what’s going to happen to the toxic coal ash that sits next to our rivers and pollutes our groundwater.

Hillsboro

“With the passage of the Coal Ash Pollution Protection Act, our community is better protected from the coal ash ponds located at Coffeen Power Plant.” said Mary Ellen DeClue of Citizens Against Longwall Mining, “Coffeen Lake is an important recreational asset to our area and will be protected from coal ash toxicity. Thank you Illinois House and Senate for passing this needed bill.”

Vermilion County

We are so happy that SB9 passed the General Assembly and is now on to the Governor’s office to be signed into law! We want to especially thank Senator Scott Bennett, Representative Carol Ammons, and Representative Mike Marron with who we are working to protect the Middle Fork from coal ash pollution. Together, they passed bi-partisan legislation that will protect communities across the state from this highly toxic waste, and ensure the polluter pays for cleanup. We sincerely thank them and the General Assembly for passing a bill that puts Illinois communities first, said Pam Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative.

“People from Danville, Homer and Urbana/Champaign love Illinois’ nationally recognized “Wild and Scenic River” – the Middle Fork of the Vermilion.  It is already impacted by coal ash pollution.  And we know that there are dozens of these toxic ponds around the state.” said the Rev. Cindy Shepherd, Faith in Place “Our water, our grandchildren’s water, deserves the protection this bill provides.”

Waukegan

“Today is a day of hope. A day of hope for many hard working black and brown sisters and brothers that bear the burden of toxic waste in our own backyards,” said Dulce Ortiz, Clean Power Lake County. “The passage of SB 9 out of the general assembly is a historic step forward for environmental justice communities across the state like Waukegan. Environmental Justice communities still have a long fight to assure community members have the basic human right of breathing clean air and drinking clean water. We call on Governor Pritzker to prioritize the voices of a community like Waukegan and protect them from polluters like NRG Energy.”

Illinois Passes Bill to Promote Renewable Energy Projects for Universities, Government Facilities

For Immediate Release

Contact: Judith Nemes, jnemes@elpc.org, 312-795-3706

Illinois General Assembly Passes Bill to Promote Renewable Energy Projects for Universities, Government Facilities

 Legislation will help reduce energy costs, move the state closer toward renewable energy goals

SPRINGFIELD, IL – The Illinois House of Representatives passed a bill by a 108-8 vote to allow public universities and state agencies to enter into renewable energy contracts for up to 25 years. Senate Bill 211 is sponsored by Senator Scott Bennett (D – Champaign) and Representative Katie Stuart (D – Edwardsville). The bill now goes to Governor Pritzker for his signature.

Universities and state agencies will now be able to enter into cost-effective renewable energy resource contracts. The previous contract length limitation was too short, making it economically infeasible for universities to enter into solar power purchase agreements. Installing on-site renewable energy with a 25-year contract will reduce overall electric bills for state universities and agencies while increasing renewable development in the state.

The legislation was supported by the University of Illinois System, Southern Illinois University System and the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

“Illinois is at a clean energy crossroads,” State Sen. Scott Bennett said. “As a state, we have the potential to continue to grow our clean energy footprint. Senate Bill 211 will make it easier for Illinois to continue that upward trajectory of providing clean, reliable and affordable energy to all of our communities.”

“Senate Bill 211 will give state agencies and universities the ability to adopt on-site solar projects,” said State Rep. Katie Stuart. “Southern Illinois University Edwardsville has been a leader in campus conservation projects. With this legislation, SIUE will be able to move forward with renewable energy.  Not only will this legislation lead to more sustainable practices from our universities and state agencies, but it will also cut energy costs over time.”

“The University is proud to be a partner in sustainability efforts to reduce our carbon footprint,” said Sean D. Reeder, Assistant Vice President, Office of Capital Programs & Utility Services, University of Illinois System. “Thanks to the legislation’s sponsors, Sen. Bennett and Rep. Stuart, for their tireless work on this issue. We look forward to expanding our renewable power portfolio following these new changes.”

“The Southern Illinois University System is pleased to have worked with our sister university system, the University of Illinois, and all our public universities to provide this important opportunity to realize greater energy savings through sustainable means like wind and solar,” said SIU System President Kevin Dorsey. “Our efforts could not have been accomplished without support from our partners including Rep. Katie Stuart and Sen. Scott Bennett in the state legislature, Governor Pritzker’s Administration with the Department of Central Management Services, and groups like the Environmental Law & Policy Center.  We came together to make a good idea even better as the bill was developed by the General Assembly.”

“Illinois is making great strides accelerating renewable energy development. Senate Bill 211 gives state universities and agencies new tools to lead on solar and wind energy,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “This legislation supports a healthier environment, lower energy costs, and job creation throughout Illinois.”

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Illinois Solar for All Program launch

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                            

Contacts:
Little Village Environmental Justice Organization: Juliana Pino, (312) 344-3143, JPino@lvejo.org
Environmental Law & Policy Center: Judith Nemes, (312) 795-3706, JNemes@elpc.org
Blacks in Green: Naomi Davis, (773) 678-9541, NaomiDavis@blacksingreen.org
Illinois People’s Action:  Dawn Dannenbring, (309) 531-4433, ILPeoplesAction12@gmail.com

 Illinois Solar for All Program Launches to Bring Affordable Renewable Energy to Low-income Households and Environmental Justice Communities across the State

Solar projects will tap job training programs to boost opportunities for new trainees

Today, the Illinois Solar for All Program officially opens for business to promote new solar projects serving low-income and environmental justice communities throughout Illinois. An important element of the program focuses on solar developers coordinating with job training programs to expand the workforce in the renewable energy industry to include individuals who are or were foster children or persons with a record who are transitioning.

The program was created as part of the Future Energy Jobs Act, which was passed by the Illinois legislature in December 2016 to increase solar energy jobs and renewable development projects across Illinois, among other objectives. Funding for the first two years of the program is set at $30 million per year, which will be used to purchase Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) from new low-income solar projects.

The Illinois Power Agency was tasked with implementing the program and it has hired Chicago-based Elevate Energy as the program administrator. The Illinois Solar for All Program has a number of sub-programs for low-income and environmental justice communities, including ones for rooftop solar, community solar projects, and solar projects for non-profits and public facilities located in and serving those communities.

“Illinois Solar for All brings unprecedented opportunities for communities on the frontlines of environmental harms and climate change consequences to lead just transition through adoption of renewable energy and its associated economic justice and cleaner air benefits,” said Juliana Pino, policy director at the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. “Dozens of members of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition and Illinois Solar for All Working Group—from private solar companies to community leaders—worked diligently to create and support the program. Now, importantly, lower electric bills and career opportunities for persons with a record and foster care alumni will be prioritized where they are needed most.”

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center is proud to help establish one of the most comprehensive statewide programs in the country that drives solar development to low-income and environmental justice communities,” said MeLena Hessel, policy advocate at the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

“Jobs with strong wages and future growth are essential to stabilization in my community. Illinois Solar for All job training and hiring requirements create an important win for those too often left out of emerging economies,” said Naomi Davis, founder of Blacks in Green. “The quality of the job training is first class, and some graduates are even experiencing multiple offers from solar vendors. I’m so pleased the hard work of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition has produced a program with such dynamic, built-in connections between employers, trainers, and candidates. This structure ensures that economic opportunities flow more equitably in the clean energy pipeline.”

“Illinois Solar for All programs give hope and dignity to the least among us,” said Rev. Tony Pierce, Board President of Illinois People’s Action, and his church is a member of the Peoria job training program preparing persons with a record for careers in the industry. “Our communities have long been left out of the Green Energy Economy and these programs begin to address those disparities.”

Training sessions will be scheduled for approved solar developers to walk them through the details of the project submission process.

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Check out more of ELPC’s work with Solar development and Clean Energy here.

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.

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.

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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.)

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