a clean coal bill in June, electric utility Commonwealth Edison lifted
its opposition to a similar measure yesterday, leading the Illinois
House to easily pass
(86-5) a measure that could lead to construction of a new generation
of clean-coal power ...
After killing a clean coal bill in June, electric utility Commonwealth Edison lifted its opposition to a similar measure yesterday, leading the Illinois House to easily pass (86-5) a measure that could lead to construction of a new generation of clean-coal power plants in the Prairie State. According to Crain's, "the bill would require utilities and power marketers to buy 5 percent of their electricity from facilities like the 600-megawatt plant proposed for Downstate Taylorville, which is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by separating carbon during the coal-burning process for later burial." Both House Speaker Mike Madigan and his daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, support the measure, claiming this technology will save consumers money in the long-run.
But there are still a lot of steps between yesterday's vote and the actual development of new plants. First, the Senate must pass the same measure. Then the testing begins:
Like earlier versions, the House-passed bill would require Taylorville plant developer Tenaska Co. to conduct a detailed cost study before the bill’s provisions take effect. The Legislature then would have to vote again to move forward with the project after seeing the study, as well as critiques of the document by state utility regulators.
The state would foot the bill for that study, which is projected to cost between $10 million and $18 million.
Why is there so much trepidation? As Crain's notes, "the carbon-sequestration technology is expensive, and its feasibility has yet to be proven." In his post about the failure of the June bill, Mose pointed to this section of a New York Times piece that is worth keeping in mind:
Coal is abundant and cheap, assuring that it will continue to be used. But the failure to start building, testing, tweaking and perfecting carbon capture and storage means that developing the technology may come too late to make coal compatible with limiting global warming.
“It’s a total mess,” said Daniel M. Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. [...]
The fear is that utilities, lacking proven chemical techniques for capturing carbon dioxide and proven methods for storing it underground by the billions of tons per year, will build the next generation of coal plants using existing technology. That would ensure that vast amounts of global warming gases would be pumped into the atmosphere for decades.
Coal is an aging industry with a litany of internal costs. Even with energy prices soaring, legislators and advocates must think long and hard about whether clean coal is worth the intensive investment it will require. For more on the environmental dangers it presents, check out David Robert's convincing screed against the coal industry at Grist.