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Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2007 01:08 am

Chasing ACES

Illinois incorporates first-ever energy standards into rate relief, but are they garbage?

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Landfills, critics say, are top producers of greenhouse gases.
PHOTO BY THOMAS E. FRANKLIN/MCT
Untitled Document Nine months after the expiration of the state’s 10-year freeze on electric rates, and nearly a year of caterwauling by Ameren and Commonwealth Edison customers and their elected representatives, Illinois finally has in place a $1 billion relief deal. Rebate checks and bill credits have captured most headlines across the state, for good reason. In Ameren territory, mainly downstate Illinois, ratepayers whose utility bills doubled or tripled when the freeze expired will receive at least $100 in relief. Chicagoans, who are served by ComEd, should get back a minimum of $80.
But conservation advocates, too, laud the long-awaited plan, signed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich last week in DuQuoin, as a victory for the environment — for the most part, that is.
Quietly introduced by state Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, as part of the rate legislation was the Affordable, Clean Energy Standards — the state’s first renewable-energy standard, which is among the most progressive in the nation. Under the renewable portfolio standard contained within the bill, renewables will generate 25 percent of the state’s power by the year 2025. Approximately $5 million is also set aside for energy-efficiency, environmental, education, and assistance programs, including offering free energy-efficient light bulbs to low-income customers.
Among renewable resources identified in the legislation are wind and solar power, hydropower that doesn’t require the construction of new dams, and biodiesel. The bill also defines landfill gas as a renewable resource, which comes as a surprise to some environmentalists.
For a number of years debate has been waged within environmental circles over whether landfill gas — a mixture of primarily methane and carbon dioxide — is in fact renewable, because it relies on the existence of eco-unfriendly landfills. Henry Henderson, director of Midwest programs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, says that the definition of landfill gas as a renewable shows just how convoluted the political process can become. “Landfills are with us and so we need to formulate a plan to effectively manage landfill gas,” Henderson says, “but the problem comes in when we start green-washing it by calling it renewable energy, because it isn’t.”
In 2003, NRDC analysts published a report, titled Is Landfill Gas Green Energy?, that concluded that “the simple fact that landfilling results in the most greenhouse gas production of any of the waste-management options is sufficient proof alone that landfilling is not a sustainable practice and thus that landfill gas is not renewable.”
Henderson says although combusting landfill gas is more sensible than simply doing nothing and allowing toxins to seep into the atmosphere, efforts should be concentrated on genuine renewables, better systems for waste management and reduction, and the avoidance of landfills altogether. Rebecca Stanfield, state director of the Chicago-based Environment Illinois, says that the landfill provision “isn’t a big problem” for her, in light of the fact that ACES also requires wind power, of which her group is an ardent proponent, to account for 75 percent of the state’s renewables. While praising Harmon for sponsoring the legislation and calling the deal “a major step toward a smarter, cleaner energy future,” Stanfield is disappointed about one aspect of ACES that provides for the construction of a new coal-fired power plant. The facility will not be required to incorporate technology to capture and store emissions of carbon dioxide, one of the toxins that contributes to global warming. “If there were one thing I’d do to change the bill, it would be that,” Stanfield says.

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com
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