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Wednesday, July 26, 2006 02:15 pm

Juice

Sierra Club demonstrates it is a force to be reckoned with

What the Sierra Club wants, it usually gets.

In the face of coal’s recent resurgence, the Washington, D.C.-based organization, one of the nation’s most influential advocates for the environment, has objected whenever a new coal-fired power plant has been proposed.

Here in Illinois, the Sierra Club has held up three such projects in the past year.

In January, the group asked the Illinois Pollution Control Board to hold up a permit for Peabody Energy Corp.’s proposed 1,500-megawatt facility near Marissa, citing stormwater-runoff concerns.

Sierra also teamed up with several other groups to press for more up-to-date pollution controls for Indeck Energy Services Inc.’s proposed 660-megawatt plant near Joliet. They also raised concerns about the power station’s impact on animals and plants. The objections are under review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The organization also takes credit for delaying a 534-megawatt coal power plant near Benton proposed by EnviroPower. Again, the organization called for more pollution controls. The matter is in federal court; a hearing has been set for September.

With that track record, it seems that City Water, Light & Power caught a break by striking a deal with the Sierra Club that allows construction of its new $500 million, 200-megawatt coal power plant to proceed without the environmental group’s attempting to block the project.

“The Sierra Club had specific concerns about our power plant and the emissions it was going to release,” says Jay Bartlett, chief utilities engineer for CWLP. “We, on the other hand, thought we had a pretty good story to tell from an environmental standpoint.”

Under the accord, CWLP agrees to further reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury by adding new pollutant-control technology.

Additionally, CWLP would be required to implement energy-efficiency programs and purchase 120 megawatts of wind energy for use by Springfield residents and 141 state-owned buildings in the area. In return, the Sierra Club won’t appeal CWLP’s permit, saving, utility officials say, $100 million.

Officials from both organizations admit that the negotiations were kept secret at first, with members of both sides agreeing to confidentiality agreements to prevent details of the plan from being leaked to the media.

But given Sierra Club’s successes with the stick, why offer a carrot to Springfield?

“Every single time, we talk to the company about our concerns,” says the Sierra Club’s Midwest representative, Becki Clayborn. “This time when we sat down, [CWLP was] willing to work some of those things out.”

Although other power-plant companies were open to sitting down at the negotiating table, Clayborn says that CWLP genuinely wanted to work out their differences.

“We were gaining just as much as we were giving up,” she says of the deal.

CWLP has determined that by 2009, it would become too expensive to keep operating the two oldest of its Lakeside Units. In 2004, CWLP applied for an air permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, and last fall the City Council approved a 34 percent rate hike to fund the project.

Whether the deal goes through, though, is ultimately still up in the air.

For one, a virtual moratorium on the construction of wind farms is in effect until the U.S. Department of Defense determines whether the installations interfere with military radar. Illinois’ U.S. Sens. Richard Durbin and Barack Obama on Tuesday promised to block a Federal Aviation Administration nominee until the study is complete.

Even if that happens, the Sierra Club-CWLP agreement must still pass muster with Springfield aldermen.

The council delayed voting on the deal at its July 18 meeting; Ward 7 Ald. Judy Yeager called for a public hearing, which was held Wednesday, July 26, after Illinois Times went to press. Full council action could come as early as Aug. 1.

Ward 3 Ald. Frank Kunz, also a former chairman of the public-utilities committee, was among the most fervent objectors when the plan was unveiled but said earlier this week that he would keep an open mind.

“My main concern is cost,” Kunz says.

“I don’t like the way it was done, but I’m for whatever is cheapest for the citizens of Springfield.”

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