Enviros and Coal-Fired Power

  • City Water Light and Power of Springfield, Illinois compromised with environmentalists to build a cleaner power plant and supplement supplies with wind energy rather than fight through the permitting process. (Photo by Lester Graham)

There are around 100 coal-burning power plants
on the drawing boards. Many of them won’t be built.
In some cases environmental groups will fight to
make sure they don’t get built. But, Lester
Graham reports, one coal-burning power plant is
being built with the blessings of the
environmentalists nearby:


There are around 100 coal-burning power plants on the drawing boards. Many of
them won’t be built. In some cases environmental groups will fight to make sure
they don’t get built. But, Lester Graham reports, one coal-burning power plant is
being built with the blessings of the environmentalists nearby:

Usually, when a utility wants to build a new coal-burning power plant, the fight is on. The
utility is challenged by environmental groups every step of the permitting process.
Then, more times than not, the utility and the environmentalists take the fight to the
courts. It means years of delays and millions of dollars of legal bills, but that didn’t
happen here.

Construction workers are erecting the superstructure of a new 500-million dollar
coal-burning power plant. This power plant is scheduled to go online in two years.
When it’s complete, it’ll use the latest technology to reduce the nastiest pollutants
from its smokestack: sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides and mercury. And this power
plant is much more efficient.

Jay Bartlett is the chief utilities engineer with City Water Light and Power in
Springfield, Illinois. He says compared to the utility’s older power plants next door,
the new plant will burn about 20% less coal to produce the same amount of

“It takes about 1.4 pounds of coal to make a kilowatt of electricity from that plant
over there. This plant will be in the .85 range.”

And that will mean electricity bills for ratepayers won’t have to go up. It also means
the net amount of greenhouse gases is reduced. That makes environmentalists

And that’s no accident. Jay Bartlett says after being contacted by the local Sierra Club,
the power company and the environmentalists decided to talk:

“It was our goal when we sat down with the Sierra Club, saying, ‘You know we can
fight this out and it will cost both sides lots and lots of money, but will anything good
come out of this in the end?’ And we both decided that something better could come
out of spending those dollars. And what that was investing in wind, investing in
better pollution control, products for this plant to make it as clean as it can possibly be
and move forward. ”

No one really thought this would happen. Not the utility, not the regulators, and not
the environmentalists.

(Sound of coffee shop)

At a downtown coffee shop, Will Reynolds still seems a little surprised. He’s with the
local Sierra Club chapter that worked with Springfield’s City Water Light and Power:

“Yeah, at the start of this I thought there was no chance for any kind of agreement or
compromise. But by the end of it, we had an agreement that reduced the CO2 to
Kyoto Treaty levels, we had a utility that was able to build a power plant to have a
stable, efficient power supply — which was what they were looking for as a small
municipal utility — and in the end, I think it was a win-win for everybody.”

What the two sides agreed to is this: the best off-the-shelf equipment to control
pollution better than the law requires, and to offset the CO2 produced by the plant,
the utility signed an agreement with an Iowa wind-power company to provide part of
Springfield’s electricity:

“Springfield is a small, pretty conservative town that just took a huge step forward
and showed what can be done realistically to reduce our global warming emissions.
And we were able to do it and still provide for our power, still have affordable, reliable
power for the entire city. So, if Springfield can do it, then other cities can do it.”

The state regulating agency, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency,
applauded the efforts. Illinois is a coal-producing state and has been encouraging
power companies to clean up their plants so that coal can still be used without as many
of the pollution worries. IEPA Director Doug Scott says the Springfield utility’s efforts
will be a model for other power companies:

“I mean, all of the things that they did and the things that they worked out with Sierra
Club, the extra reductions that they’re getting over and above what they would have
had to have done in a normal permitting sense. I mean, that they were looking at
trying to be good stewards of the environment as well as being responsive to their
ratepayers as well.”

And Scott says that’s key. Because it’s plentiful and domestic, coal is not going
away. Scott says this can work for not just municipal electric utilities, but private
power companies can keep shareholders happy, keep ratepayers happy and keep
the skies clearer by updating power plants to work more efficiently, seriously reduce
the emissions from coal, and do what they can to offset greenhouse gas emissions
until technology is found that can clean up CO2.

For the Environment Report, this is Lester Graham.

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