Category Archives: Illinois’ Energy Future

People’s Climate Movement–Chicagoland

Join us Today! January 23rd from 3:30 to 5:30

The People’s Climate Movement is calling for 100 hours of action in response to the inauguration. Sierra Club Valley of the Fox is joining nearby Sierra Club groups in a rally at Rep. Peter Roskam’s office to let him know that his constituents and neighbors want action on climate change. If you want to do something NOW to have a voice in our future, come to this rally. We will have speakers, chanting, and marching. Make some signs. Have your kids make some signs.

Action nourishes hope.

January 23 – Monday – 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm
People’s Climate Movement-Chicagoland
Rally at Peter Roskam’s Office
2700 International Drive, West Chicago, IL

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Questions? Email Barbara Hill

Illinois Budget Crisis Threatens Ratepayer Protection and Clean Energy Programs

While the Illinois budget crisis wreaks havoc on social programs across the state, the budget impasse also poses a major threat to three other major funds. These funds, each funded by ratepayers, not tax dollars, that are the primary funding for Illinois’ programs to protect the most vulnerable, lower bills through energy efficiency, and create jobs in renewable energy projects. Each of these funds have been specifically targeted during this budget crisis. We must act together to ensure that these important resources are protected in this time of crisis.

psp take action button2SB3382 and HB5791 will protect our most vulnerable, create good jobs in clean energy, and reduce pollution. SB3383 and HB5971 both ask for full funding and protection for the the Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standards (EEPS) Fund, while SB3383 also asks for full funding and protection for the Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Renewable Energy Resources Fund (RERF).

1. Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) This fund is a mix of ratepayer and federal funds, and helps low income utility customers pay gas and electric bills to avoid the shut-off of service. Funds are also used to help these customers save energy through weatherization projects. More than 300,000 vulnerable Illinois households use LIHEAP to assist with energy costs. This includes seniors, disabled persons and low-income families. LIHEAP is funded by federal funds and a charge on utility bills – no state tax dollars are provided. The program consists of two funds – the Supplemental Low-Income Energy Assistance Fund and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Block Grant Fund In 2015, the LIHEAP program was targeted for elimination. SB 3383 would protect both LIHEAP funds in Fiscal Year 2017 by appropriating the full amount of anticipated funds collected from ratepayers and received from the federal government to protect our most vulnerable.

2. Renewable Energy Resources Fund (RERF) This fund, held at the Illinois Power Agency, is collected from alternative electric suppliers and is supposedly dedicated to buying renewable energy as part of Illinois’ electric suppliers. Payments from these alternative suppliers are part of their required compliance with Illinois’ Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires a certain percentage of each supplier’s energy portfolio to come from renewable sources. To date these funds have been used to buy renewable energy credits from newly constructed solar energy projects – directly creating good jobs in Illinois. Both the pending Clean Jobs Bill (HB2607/SB1485) and ComEd’s Future Energy Plan (HB3328/SB1879) depend on RERF dollars for a new low-income community solar program. No state tax dollars are used on these programs. They are entirely collected from electric suppliers. In 2015, $98 million was swept from the RERF. SB 3383 would protect RERF funds in Fiscal Year 2017 by appropriating $120M, the approximate current balance in the Fund, to create jobs in solar energy projects.

3. Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standards (EEPS) Fund The Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (EEPS) at DCEO is used by ComEd and Ameren to help homes, businesses, and local governments save energy. These projects have lowered electric bills by well over $1 billion in the last decade and created good jobs modernizing and retrofitting homes, businesses, and local government buildings with energy-saving technologies. No state tax dollars are used on these programs. They are entirely collected from ratepayers and used by ComEd and Ameren on energy efficiency projects. In 2015, these funds were targeted for sweeps. SB 3383 would protect EEPS funds in Fiscal Year 2017 by appropriating up to $125M, or the maximum amount collected from ratepayers, to help lower electric bills through energy conservation.

DON’T SWEEP AWAY ILLINOIS’ CLEAN ENERGY FUTURE

Act Now — Support SB 3383 and HB5791

 

Grain Belt Express Can Deliver Clean Energy and Jobs to Illinois

Illinois has a chance right now to create good jobs adding clean energy to our power supply, and we should say yes.   Springfield may be mired in gridlock, but the Illinois Commerce Commission can give the green light to a project that will put women and men to work and turn on the renewable energy projects we need now to reduce carbon pollution.

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The route is not exact; Clean Line continues to work with landowners to make adjustments.

The proposed Grain Belt Express transmission line would bring new renewable wind energy onto the grid in Illinois while creating 1,500 jobs for skilled workers. The Grain Belt Express would be the latest clean energy success story for our economy since Illinois started adding wind and solar to our power grid, and investing in energy conservation. In just a few years, we’ve created over 100,000 jobs in clean energy, saved consumers over $1 billion on their electric bills and reduced the emissions that threaten our health and our climate. It’s a great start, but we can do so much more.

To fully realize the benefits of the clean energy economy, we have to be able to move power from clean energy projects to our homes and businesses. One of the biggest impediments to a meaningful expansion of the wind industry is the lack of transmission infrastructure. The Grain Belt Express would help bring new wind energy projects on line here in the heartland by connecting them with customers who are eager to switch to a cleaner power supply.

Connecting clean energy to power markets will create good jobs here in Illinois, and we have the skilled workforce ready and eager for the job. It will also reduce the pollution that threatens our health and our wildlife, and threatens stronger storms, increased flooding, and our agricultural economy through the impacts of climate change.

With proper care and consideration for people, wildlife and the land the Grain Belt Express can help deliver urgently needed renewable energy to Illinois and other markets. The state, its citizens and its workers will benefit greatly from another clean energy source being delivered to Illinois. The Sierra Club supports the development of renewable energy projects in our state, and urge the Illinois Commerce Commission to give the green light to the Grain Belt Express and a better future for all of us.

Additional information:

Why Transmission?

Economic Benefits of Transmission

Why Clean Energy Transmission?

photo credit: Harvey McDaniel

photo credit: Harvey McDaniel

A lack of transmission infrastructure remains as one of the biggest impediments to a meaningful expansion of the wind industry. Design of the electric grid exacerbates the problem, as the grid was originally built to connect large individual generation units, and deliver the energy they generated to large population centers around the country. Midwestern states like Illinois–which received 4.98% of it’s energy from wind in 2014–have been working to increase investment in and use of renewable energy like wind, but they continue to face the problem of adequate transmission.

transmissionIn much of the Midwest, we still lack the suitable transmission to connect renewable energy resources that are often in rural areas to the larger grid. New investment in the electric grid must go hand-in-hand with renewable energy investment, allowing clean and renewable energy to be delivered to customers across the Midwest. New projects like the Grain Belt Express project must be considered as a way to provide a path from where renewable energy is generated to consumers.

Renewable Energy and Transmission

With the advent of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), utilities and power providers seek out new energy generation to replace carbon-intensive sources, with the overall goal of reducing carbon emissions. For states to comply with the plan, they will need to identify renewable energy resources and insure that those sources have a reliable connection to the electric grid, and that new transmission development keeps up with renewable energy development.

Because the timeline for transmission development can often run much longer—between 5 and 15 years in many cases—than renewable energy generation facilities, planning of new transmission must try to forecast the future needs of the electric grid. According to the Department of Energy’s Wind Vision report, effectively integrating wind energy into the resource mix of utilities will require that sufficient transmission is built out to meet the needs of new or potential renewable energy generation. In fact, lack of transmission has already led to development delays as several proposals have been trapped in the transmission access queue.

The American Wind Energy Association’s Wind Industry Fourth Quarter 2014 Market Report noted that there is currently 65,879 megawatts (MW) of installed wind energy capacity across 39 states and Puerto Rico, and over 12,700 MW of new wind energy generation under construction. In fact, wind energy accounted for 31 percent of all new electricity generation installed over the last five years.

To meet the goals of the Clean Power Plan, states will require access to local and regional renewable energy resources. Without the transmission connections for these resources, states like Illinois will be limited in their options to address the requirements under the Clean Power Plan.

Local Community Input Essential for Proper Siting

Feedback from local stakeholders is one of the most useful tools in the transmission siting and development process. Comments provided by local communities and landowners offer a unique perspective that developers can’t obtain anywhere else. Developers must take the time to gather this feedback and integrate it, using this input to avoid sensitive areas. Likewise, it is important that regulators and state officials take the time to consider the input of local communities when examining these projects, providing a basis for their decision-making.

One specific area where local input is especially helpful is in the avoidance of sensitive areas. Although developers attempt to avoid these areas, sometimes it isn’t possible to entirely route a project around them. Local communities can provide insight into mitigation practices for these areas, or potential alternatives for routs. This is also true for residences and community buildings, which can be overlooked early in the development process. Proximity of transmission lines to these areas is an important consideration that regulators and developers must make, and any final route must reflect such an effort.

The electric power transmission network was not designed to penetrate areas of the Midwest that are brimming with wind energy potential. Planning new transmission to serve these areas is essential to keep pace with new renewable development, and insure that completed projects can deliver power to consumers. However, it is important that these projects are sited in a way that works alongside affected communities and landowners, and achieves an outcome that meets the needs of all stakeholders involved.

Economic Benefits of Clean Energy Transmission

The Grid and Transmission Lines

Citizens Speak Out in Favor of More Stream Protection at Coal Mines

Citizens for clean water.

Citizens for clean water.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) has proposed a new rule for regulation of coal mining intended to better protect streams, fish, and wildlife from the adverse impacts of surface coal mining operations and impacts to streams from underground mining. 

The proposed rule would update the nearly 30-year-old rule coal mines now operate under and:

  • include regulatory requirements for addressing the hydrologic balance outside the permit area.
  • require mine operators to establish an adequate baseline for evaluation of the impacts of mining and the effectiveness of reclamation.
  • adjust monitoring requirements to enable timely detection and correction of any adverse trends in the quality or quantity of surface water and groundwater or the biological condition of streams.
  • ensure protection or restoration of perennial and intermittent streams and related resources, including ephemeral streams.
  • ensure that mine operators and regulatory authorities make use of the most current science and technology
  • ensure that land disturbed by mining operations is restored to a condition capable of supporting the uses that it was capable of supporting prior to mining.
  • update and codify the requirements and dispute resolution procedures involved when the proposed permit or adjacent areas contain federally listed threatened or endangered species and designated critical habitat.

OSMRE held six public hearings in Colorado, Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, W. Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Citizens wait in line to get into the hearing.

Citizens wait in line to get into the hearing.

Illinois Chapter Sierra Club gives a loud shout out to the 38 citizens from Illinois, Missouri and Indiana who attended the Missouri hearing to tell their stories of destruction and pollution. They included citizens on the frontline from: Peabody’s Rocky Branch Mine in Saline County, Springfield Coal’s Industry Mine in McDonough County, Foresight Energy’s Deer Run Mine in Montgomery County and Pond Creek Mine in Williamson County, Sunrise Coal’s proposed Bulldog Mine in Vermilion County, and many more supporters from across the region.

Waiting for the hearing to begin.

Waiting for the hearing to begin.

Everyone did an excellent job of telling their stories and tying them to aspects of the draft rule. In fact, OSMRE staff presiding over the hearing thanked our folks for attending and extended high praise for telling such powerful, compelling stories.

Those testifying on the side opposing new, protective rules for clean water included representatives for Congressmen John Shimkus, Rodney Dave and Mike Bost, and State Representatives Terri Bryant and Avery Bourne. Due to some tricky maneuvering to have others hold their place in line, the vast majority, including those mentioned above, were the first to speak. Unfortunately, our elected officials did not bother to stick around to hear what their constituents, some of whom drove over 200 miles, had to say!

All hands-in celebration after the hearing.

All-hands-in celebration after the hearing.

Others in opposition included the Illinois Coal Association and the Indiana Coal Council and industry representatives from Foresight Energy, American Coal, Peabody Coal, Murray, Knight Hawk Coal, Alliance Coal, Sunrise Coal, Arch Coal. The main talking points among the opposition were that the new rules are: redundant, a solution without a problem, going to cause massive job loss, cause the lights to go out, cause severe rate hikes–all intermixed with lots of Obama blaming and some Sierra Club bashing.

Acid mine drainage can be highly toxic and, when mixed with groundwater, surface water and soil, may have harmful effects on humans, animals and plants.

Acid mine drainage can be highly toxic and, when mixed with groundwater, surface water and soil, may have harmful effects on humans, animals and plants.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) is a bureau within the U.S. Department of the Interior. OSMRE was created in 1977 when Congress enacted the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. OSMRE works with states and tribes to ensure that citizens and the environment are protected during coal mining and that the land is restored to beneficial use when mining is finished. Today, most coal states, including Illinois, have developed their own programs to do those jobs. OSMRE focuses on overseeing the state programs and developing new tools, such as the proposed Stream Protection Rule, to help the states and tribes get the job done.

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Statement on Clean Power Plan & Illinois

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Obama Administration released the final version of the landmark Clean Power Plan.

In response, Jack Darin, Director of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club released the following statement:

“The Clean Power Plan is the most significant single action any President has ever taken to tackle the most serious threat to the health of our families: the climate crisis.

“Today marks a new era of growth for affordable and safe clean energy sources that don’t fuel climate disruption and sicken our communities. It is a step towards improving the quality of life for low income neighborhoods and communities of color, which have disproportionately borne the brunt of power plant pollution in Illinois for decades. It is an opportunity to protect what we treasure most here in Illinois; from Lake Michigan to our state’s vital farmland.

“We know we can meet these goals for reducing carbon pollution in Illinois because we’ve already started. Since Illinois started adding wind and solar to our power grid, and investing in energy conservation, we’ve created over 100,000 jobs in clean energy, saved consumers over $1 billion on their electric bills and reduced the emissions that threaten our health and our climate. With a strong state Clean Power Plan, we can build on that success to create good jobs where we need them most, protect ratepayers, and clean the air we breathe. The Illinois Clean Jobs bill is the best way to bring Illinois a clean energy future by ramping up renewable energy like wind and solar to 35 percent by 2030 and cutting energy use through efficiency by 20 percent by 2025. These efforts will save consumers money while bringing clean energy investment to new communities to strengthen local tax bases and create family-sustaining jobs.

“We are especially proud that a President from Illinois is leading America to confront the climate crisis, and seize these opportunities. With so much at stake, it’s time to come together to build solutions to ensure that no Illinois community is left behind as we shift to a clean energy economy. As we work to build a better future for our children and grandchildren, these efforts must include ensuring good jobs and economic vitality in diverse Illinois communities so families can grow and thrive.

“We stand ready and eager to work together on a Clean Power Plan for Illinois that delivers the better future we all want for our families and our future.”

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Victory at North Canton Mine

Streams Feeding Canton Lake Saved

court-order1With the signing of a Circuit Court Consent Order on January 16, 2015 to terminate the North Canton Mine mining permit, two big victories were realized. First, the order to stop the strip coal mine in the watershed of Canton Lake protects the public drinking water supply for half the population of Fulton County from mine drainage pollution. Second, the victory set in motion a fundamental change in the way the Department of Natural Resources will evaluate permit applications going forward. No longer will the Department be able to ignore the regulatory definition of “intermittent” stream.

IMG_1352Sierra Club volunteers and others requested a public hearing on the mine permit in 2006. In 2008 the Sierra Club’s Heart of Illinois Group worked with local residents to form the Canton Area Citizens for Environmental Issues (CACEI). The groups teamed up with Prairie Rivers Network to fight this badly located and designed mine. Believing that the Department had not characterized the streams correctly in the permit, members of CACEI and the Heart of Illinois Group petitioned the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for an Administrative Review of the mine permit in 2008. The review hearings finally began at the end of May 2012 and took 12 days spread out from May to the end of August.

N Canton Cindy getting sample south of Brereton Rd on  tributary to West Branch Copperas Creek_096Based on expert testimony given by Dr. Cindy Skrukrud, Sierra Club Illinois Chapter, Clean Water Advocate and Chuck Norris, hydrogeologist with Geo-Hydro Inc, Denver, Colorado, in February 2013 the Hearing Officer removed one tributary and its 163-acre watershed from the mining plan. Legal work by attorney David Wentworth with the Peoria law firm Hasselberg Grebe Snodgrass Urban & Wentworth proved that the state permitting agency had made its own internal decision to use only one half of the state law on stream characterization. The case decision ruled that the petitioners proved beyond preponderance of the evidence that the application for the mine permit failed to list Stream 6 as an intermittent stream, thus failing to provide information as to the protection of the stream as required by mining law. The decision stated that baseline surface water information submitted by Capital Resources in its application was insufficient to meet the requirements of 62 IL Administrative Code 1780.21(b) [Final Order pp 26-27]. In June of 2013, Capital Resources submitted a revised application for the remaining 921 acres. The IDNR immediately approved the revision to the application as an insignificant revision, and simultaneously granted a 5-year permit renewal. \ Sierra Club and local citizens saw the revision to the application as very significant, rendering the original permit obsolete.

Required permits from the IEPA to allow discharges from the coal mine (NPDES permit) and destruction of the tributary streams by mining activities (401 certification) were neither approved nor denied as of the date of the court order ending the mining permit.

CACEI Donation from Cindy Aug 2013 006Sierra Club and local citizens filed for State Administrative Review of the IDNR permit renewal in the summer of 2013. Earlier that spring, Sierra Club and Brenda Dilts filed an appeal of the IDNR Hearing Officer’s February decision into Circuit Court in an effort to save the remaining tributaries. We argued that the revised plan in no way matched the December 6, 2011, mine operations plan that North Canton LLC presented at the IEPA hearing, which the mine contended would protect Canton Lake from discharges.

Not long before a scheduled three-hour hearing before the circuit court judge, Capital Resources communicated that they were going to stop all plans for mining and asked that the hearing be cancelled as ‘moot.” Attorney David Wentworth asked for a continuance of the court case until issues regarding the site and subsequent actions by the mine company could be placed into an agreed Consent Order. The order was finalized on January 16, 2015.

N Canton mature oak forest saved_106After 8 years, dedicated efforts, a lot of bake sales, candy sales, garage sales, and fund-raiser help from Illinois Chapter Sierra Groups as far away as the River Prairie Group in suburban Chicago, to donations from mine community members in other parts of the state, this strip mine has been stopped. The beautiful rolling Copperas Creek valleys, tall mature oak and hickory timber, and productive farmland along scenic tree-lined country lanes bordered by horse pastures and family farms will not be blasted and bull-dozed down fifty to over eighty feet deep for the one time taking of coal. Rubble will not be bulldozed back with a couple feet of top soil put on top to mask the long-term damages to the layers of sand, gravel, and the natural drainage nature built up over the eons to make this watershed.

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The battle was long and hard and locals faced discrimination and numerous attempts to intimidate them, but they never gave up.