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Clean coal plant near Springfield, Ill. gets approval

By AP/Shawn Allee, IL Public Radio

Springfield, Ill. – A planned $2 billion plant that would turn high-sulfur Illinois coal into a synthetic gas for use to generate electricity has gotten the go-ahead to begin construction.

But there still are obstacles for the proposed Taylorville Energy Center in central Illinois to clear.

State lawmakers still must sign off on a measure that would let developers enter into long-term, regulated cost-based contracts with large Illinois electric utilities.

If that bill passes this session, officials say construction on the plant could begin later this year, with operations beginning as soon as 2012.

The change in law results from a kind of catch-22 the state has in energy. There's plenty of coal, but if it burns that coal, it pollutes air in large cities.

Tenaska environmental Vice President Greg Kunkel says there's a catch to their plans to build the plant: "In order for us to attract sufficient private capital to finance this mult-billion cost, we need to enter long-term, regulated, cost-based contracts before the plant can be built." he said.

In a nutshell, the proposal would make Ameren and ComEd buy 5% of their electricity from clean-coal providers. It would lock utilities into 30 or 40 year contracts.

But that contradicts the state's current market-based approach - where utilities buy shorter contracts during auctions.

ENVIRONMENTAL

The plans for the plant also have environmental groups split on whether it's the best the state can do.

The proposed plant would slash most pollutants, except one - carbon dioxide. Environmental groups like the Illinois Sierra Club call it a missed opportunity to fight global warming. "There's no question that we're moving in the right direction in terms of moving away form pulverized coal," said group president Jack Darin. "But whatever plant is built is likely to operate for better part of a century there and it's going to have a huge impact in the climate change debate."

Darin wants plant operators to offset carbon emissions, or figure out how to bury the greenhouse gas. Tenaska says that would be too expensive with current technology.

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