Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tenaska in Taylorville update

Taylorville is one step closer to building a $2.5 billion “clean coal” power plant using Illinois coal and advanced technologies to reduce pollution. The Illinois House twice rejected the plan before approving legislation Wednesday that would allow a so-called feasibility study to estimate the cost of the project and detail the engineering of the cleaner power production. You can read about the holdup of the project and the purpose of the legislation in my June column in Illinois Issues magazine.

Now the legislation goes to the Senate. If approved, then the Nebraska-based Tenaska Inc. would conduct a study to detail how it would generate cleaner electricity, the cost of the project and the amount of money it would expect to collect in the long run. The legislation also would set parameters for Illinois’ long-term energy portfolio. Read my column for more on that.

Rep. Gary Hannig, a Litchfield Democrat whose district includes the proposed Taylorville Energy Center, described the purpose of the study. “They’re not just guesstimating what it would cost to build a plant. They’d be pretty close, to the point where they could say, ‘This is what a kilowatt of electricity will cost us.’ Then they’ll come back to us and say, ‘We’ll build it this way, it’ll be clean, and this is what it’ll cost.’ And then we say yes or no.”

The Illinois legislature would be able to review the study and vote on whether the project should proceed. Right now, no Illinois power plants qualify as a “clean coal” facility, Hannig said. Taylorville could be the first if this goes through.

Some Republicans still opposed the measure because they said it had potential to spend a lot of taxpayer dollars on unproven technology. No tax dollars would pay for the construction of the plant, but all electricity users — including customers of Commonwealth Edison in northern Illinois and Ameren Illinois customers in the rest of the state — eventually would help pay for the power supplied by the Tenaska plant once it went online.

The other holdup, until Wednesday, was that ComEd formerly opposed the legislation. The utility said in a statement that it now is on board because the legislation would beef up the oversight by the Illinois Commerce Commission and would require the commission and the Illinois Power Agency to hire an independent consultant to review Tenaska’s cost and engineering study, which would help legislators decide whether to let the project go forward.

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