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Thursday, Dec. 3, 2009 04:05 am

Illinois sixth in power plant CO2

Coal plants worst polluters, government data shows

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The recently-completed Dallman 4 power plant operated by CWLP uses state-of-the-art technology to capture pollutants, though CO2 emissions are not addressed.
PHOTO BY PATRICK YEAGLE

Illinois ranks sixth among the states for carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, according to an environmental group calling for a shift toward cleaner energy.

Environment Illinois, a Chicago-based environmental, released a report last week blasting America’s aging fleet of fossil fuel-burning power plants. The report focuses on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, advocating for tighter pollution controls and shutting down plants using what the group calls “outdated, inefficient and polluting technology.”

In their report, titled “America’s Biggest Polluters,” Environment Illinois analyzes power plant emissions data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to rank power plants across the country by their carbon dioxide emissions, finding that the oldest plants are also the biggest polluters. Plants built before 1980 produced 1.87 billion tons of CO2 in 2007 — 73 percent of the nation’s total output, the report says.

Illinois ranks sixth behind Texas, Ohio, Florida, Indiana and Pennsylvania for most CO2 emissions from power plants, the report says, with the state’s 53 fossil fuel plants putting out an estimated 109 million tons of CO2 in 2007 – equal to the output from about 19 million cars, Environment Illinois contends.

Coal plants, the group says, are the worst of the worst polluters.

“Coal has the highest carbon content of any fossil fuel per unit of energy, meaning that burning coal for electricity produces more carbon per kilowatt-hour generated than does burning oil or natural gas,” the report states. “Coal emits 27 percent more CO2, the main pollutant that fuels global warming, per unit of energy than oil and 75 percent more than natural gas.”

Of the 2.56 billion tons of CO2 emitted by U.S. power plants in 2007, 80 percent came from coal plants, according to the report.

Springfield’s own coal-burning plants are a mixed bag of old and new. The state-run Capitol Complex Power Plant, in operation since 1950, released 33,297 tons of CO2 in 2007, including emissions from burning oil and natural gas. While CO2 estimates for the recently-completed Dallman 4 power plant operated by City Water, Light and Power are not yet available, it is expected to run 34 percent cleaner than the Lakeside coal plant it replaces.

The state’s oldest power plant, a 62-year-old oil-burning facility in Havana, put out 3.68 million tons of CO2 in 2007 and ranks 21st among the nation’s oldest plants, according to the report.

Phil Gonet, president of the Illinois Coal Association, says coal may be environmentally unpopular, but it is a vital piece of the energy puzzle.

“What are you going to replace coal with?” Gonet asks. “Coal produces half of the electricity in our country right now, and projections are that electricity demand in the United States is going to increase by 30 percent by the year 2030.”

Coal plant emissions over the past 30 years have declined, he says, despite an increase in the amount of coal burned.

“Right now, we have the most stringent air emissions laws in the world,” Gonet says.

He also points to clean coal projects like the Taylorville Energy Center and the federally-sponsored FutureGen plant – two Illinois proposals that would burn coal mined in-state, capture the carbon released, and store it below ground.

“I think we need all of the energies mixed,” Gonet said. “We need nuclear and we need renewables, but we also need coal. Our nation’s economy runs on low-cost energy. You can’t take 50 percent out of that and think we’re still going to have low-cost energy.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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