By Benjamin Yount Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD – Clean coal energy is back after the Illinois House reversed itself Tuesday night and approved the Taylorville Energy Center.
The power plant, backed by Tenaska Energy, is billed as a state-of-the-art clean coal facility that will turn Illinois’ high sulfur coal into electricity and store emissions underground.
State Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, who shepherded the proposal through the House, said the Taylorville Energy Center is all about jobs.
“This has the opportunity to use clean coal, about 2 million tons per year,” Mautino said. “At the peak of construction of this $3.5 billion dollar facility, there will 2,500 construction jobs. We’re talking about 9 million labor hours.”
Mautino added that all of the coal burned in the plant will come from Illinois, which he called the Saudi Arabia of coal.
State Rep. Dan Reitz, D-Sparta, said Illinois has lost young men and young women fighting for the oil in the Middle East, and was quick to opine that that would not happen at downstate coal mines.
“It doesn’t take a battleship to protect a coal mine,” said Reitz.
Reitz himself worked in coal mines in southern Illinois for 17 years before coming to the General Assembly.
State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Collinsville, said that more than just locating in Illinois and using Illinois coal, the Taylorville plant will bring the next generation of green technology to Illinois.
“We in Illinois are in a unique position,” he said. “We have all of the resources we need to become energy self-sufficient. We’re No. 2 in corn production to create ethanol. We’re No. 2 in soybean production to create bio-diesel fuel. We’re No. 3 in the nation with the coal reserves under our land.”
The state does not have to contribute any money to build the Taylorville plant. Tenaska Energy officials say they have lined up the nearly $4 billion it will take to construct the facility, including several billion dollars in federal help. Lawmakers instead are being asked to guarantee a market for the electricity generated at the plant. Estimates put that total load at about 2 percent of the total power generated in the state.
But critics say state involvement will drive up prices for everyone, particularly large industrial companies. And that’s why many lawmakers like State Rep. Dave Winters, R-Rockford, voted against the proposal.
“I think it’s simply another signal to business that we are not friendly to you in Illinois … that state government sees you as a hapless victim that we don’t need to protect you at all,” he said.
It took two votes for the measure to find approval. The House rejected the plan, but supporters brought it back for a second vote, which passed 63-50.
The Illinois House also approved a similar package for another clean energy facility on Chicago’s southeast side. The Leucadia project is billed as another multi-billion dollar investment. That plant is supposed to take coal and an oil refinery waste product and turn the mixture into natural gas. Lawmakers were asked to guarantee a market for that gas as well. Supporters say the plant, planned for a brownfield site on the southeast side, could be worth $4 billion to the state.
Both proposals now head to the Illinois Senate.