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Thursday, April 29, 2010 06:59 pm

Proposed ‘clean coal’ plant has drawbacks

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3-D diagram of the Taylorville Energy Center’s integrated gasification combined cycle unit.

Taylorville Energy Center, a proposed “clean coal” power plant, is backed by supporters for its eco-friendliness and job creation potential, but some environmental and business groups say the project may cause more harm than good for Illinois.

Taylorville Energy Center, which could generate enough electricity to power about 600,000 homes, is currently under review by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC). Project backers have submitted their financial report to the ICC in hopes of receiving state subsidies. If the state approves the costs, every utility in Illinois will be required to purchase up to five percent of its power from Taylorville Energy Center.

According to studies by Tenaska, the international power development company managing the project, nearly 10 million labor hours would be needed to build the power plant, resulting in nearly 2,500 construction jobs and hundreds of permanent plant and mining jobs.

But the STOP Coalition, a group of business and trade associations, says the mandatory five percent may actually promote job loss, not job growth.

Philip O’Connor, a member of the STOP Coalition and former chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission, says the Taylorville Energy Center will drive up electricity costs, causing long-term expenses that may force businesses into layoffs.

“If one were to increase energy costs by these amounts, then businesses and consumers will have to compensate by reducing their spending in other areas,” O’Connor says. “The consequence of that is a loss of employment and other economic activity.”

Residential and small business customers would pay about two percent more for electricity and utilities, O’Connor says. Larger businesses could see an increase from three to seven percent, he says.

“At the end of the day, the Taylorville Energy Center, as proposed, would irrefutably and significantly raise electric rates for all Illinois consumers,” he says. “The decision by the state legislature on Taylorville will be felt for decades.”

Clean Coal Illinois, a group that supports the Energy Center, says the proposed plant will capture and store underground up to 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, cutting carbon emissions to levels comparable to that of a plant fueled by clean-burning natural gas. The plant will also use 70 percent less water than conventional plants, the organization says.

The power plant proposes to gasify coal into synthetic gas, which would then be either burned to create electricity, or sold to natural gas companies. Turning coal into gas reduces emissions, the Energy Center says, creating a “clean coal” power plant.

Opponents say the Energy Center’s financial estimates are unreliable, and it would be risky for Illinois to agree to their plan. According to the Illinois Sierra Club, the project has already received up to $25 million from state grants, approval for $500 million in loan guarantees from the Illinois Finance Authority and approval for $2.5 billion in loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Energy.

“This plant is being propped up by ratepayer, state and federal taxpayer money that would be better spent on cleaner, proven energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies,” says Becki Clayborn, regional representative of the Sierra Club. “Instead, the state is taking on all the investment risk of building an experimental power plant that will still emit up to 3 million tons of global warming pollution annually, while Taylorville Energy Center is taking practically zero risk on this project. The state and ratepayers are taking almost all the risk.”

The ICC is slated to submit a report to the General Assembly analyzing the facility’s projected costs and environmental impact. April 16 was the deadline to submit comments or documents for or against the project.

The Illinois Commerce Commission received more than 1,100 public comments regarding the proposed power plant, which would be located a mile northeast of Taylorville.

To view the Energy Center’s report, visit www.icc.illinois.gov.

Contact Diane Ivey at divey@illinoistimes.com.

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