April 25, 2012

Illinois enviro groups split over coal, renewable energy bill

Illinois environmental groups are split over an energy bill that funds a controversial “clean coal” power plant, but also boosts renewable energy in the state's electricity market.

Senate Bill 0678  would require Illinois utilities to buy electricity at above-market rates from a coal-to-gas power plant in Taylorville, to be built by Omaha, Neb.-based Tenaska Energy. By some estimates, Illinois residents and businesses could see their electricity rates rise by $12 billion over 30 years.

The bill also would streamline the Illinois Power Agency’s procurement of renewable energy for utility companies, providing long-term certainty for state’s burgeoning wind industry.

Many of the state’s environmental groups have advocated for that streamlining, but only the Environmental Law and Policy Center said it’s worth supporting in tandem with the Tenaska coal project.

“I wish we could do this without compromising,” said Barry Matchett, co-legislative director at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, referring to the renewable energy procurement provisions. “But we’ve tried to push those (provisions) separately in recent years, and they haven’t passed.”

However, Jack Darin, president of the Sierra Club’s Illinois chapter, said the coal project is like a bailout and a bad idea.

“It's a sweetheart deal for a single company to make Illinois citizens and businesses finance a very risky project that private backers won't touch,” Darin said.


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