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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Economy over environment? [UPDATED]

For the last couple weeks, we've been bombarded with dueling ads in Springfield from the Tenaska people and the anti-Tenaska people.

Tenaska is a large energy company based on Omaha, Nebraska. They want to build a so-called clean coal electrical plant in Taylorville. However, they first need a permit, which is a long, winding process through the Illinois Commerce Commission, the Illinois legislature, and then to the governor's desk. Apparently, this has been going on for several years.

If Tenaska gets the go ahead, they'll invest a few billion of their own money, and the U.S. government will chip in a few billion more to build this thing. Obviously, this has the potential to be a huge boon to the economy of Central Illinois, the likes of which we probably have never seen.

The anti-Tenaska ads say it will hurt the economy. Electricity will become so expensive, companies and jobs will flee the state, they say. How do we know who to believe?

I suspect these dueling ads, which I've heard on radio and seen on one very prominent political blog (they're probably on TV and in print, too), are not necessarily directed to the citizens of Springfield, but to state legislators and their staffs, which were in Springfield a week ago, and will be back this week.

Today the State Journal-Register editorialized in favor of building the plant in Taylorville. Interestingly, the paper briefly mentioned one aspect of the project that seems to have been muffled in all the economic debate. You have to scroll all the way to the end to find it:

Our Opinion: Illinois should take clean-coal lead
We recognize that some people oppose the Tenaska plant on purely environmental grounds. They believe the carbon byproduct of the plant’s process can never be fully sequestered, and that “clean” coal is an oxymoron. Some believe that efforts to continue using coal in any fashion undercut the development of the cleanest energy sources — wind and the sun.
We disagree to this extent: Wind and solar power are the cleanest, and one day will be our main sources of power. But all evidence points to that time being many years in the future. With coal abundant and economically feasible, we believe processes like the one to be used in Taylorville are the best bridges to our clean energy future.

Some more reading:

Instead of blowing burning coal's byproduct into the air, which we've basically been doing for over 100 years, they want to pump it into the ground and store it there indefinitely. Personally, I'm not really comfortable with that. I mean, how can we really know what the long term effect of underground storage of carbon dioxide will do to the Earth? To future generations?

As far as I can tell, the environmentalists haven't entered the dueling ads fray. Whether they do or not, the environment should feature just as prominently as the economy in the debate before the decision is made.

Update: On Tuesday, November 30, 2010, the Illinois House defeated the bill. Then they undefeated it. Then they said the bill could make a comeback. Then it came back. Then they passed it with a vote of 63 to 50. During the debate, Illinois was referred to as the Saudi Arabia of coal and lots more comparisons and references to oil and battleships and war. Now, it's on to the senate. I think.

Posted by Marie at November 28, 2010 8:09 PM

Comments

When it comes to environmental problems with burning coal in power plants these days, it seems to me that it's the ash that is more problematic than anything else. From a local perspective I would be far more worried about what plans they have for that coal ash disposal/recycling.

Posted by: Dave E. Author Profile Page at November 29, 2010 9:21 PM

Good point, Dave, especially when you consider the catastrophe that happened a year or so ago in -- was it Tennessee or Kentucky? I have not heard the coal ash issue raised in relation to the Taylorville plant. Our city owned coal fired power plant currently has its coal ash hauled off and dumped in an abandoned coal mine. I think.

Posted by: Marie Author Profile Page at November 29, 2010 9:50 PM

Kingston, Tennessee. You know I'm a skeptic when it comes to carbon dioxide being a problem, but there's no doubt that they need a plan for dealing with the coal ash that won't put the area at risk for a disaster like that Tennessee one.

Posted by: Dave E. Author Profile Page at November 30, 2010 10:47 PM

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