By Anthony Brino
SPRINGFIELD — The controversial Tenaska coal-to-gas power plant in central Illinois is in limbo, as environmental groups point to costs as a way to kill it and two similar projects.
The three plants, approved last year, would require Illinois consumers to buy electricity and heating at above-market rates, costing an extra $803 million a year in total, or an extra $140 a year for the average family, according to a report by the consulting firm Martin, Cohen, Roth and Associates with the Illinois Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council.
"These three plants represent the first time that the Legislature has mandated that specific power plants be built and that consumers pay for them," said report co-author Martin Cohen, a consultant and former head of the Illinois Citizens Utility Board.
The other two projects — Power Holdings of Illinois plant in Jefferson County and the Leucadia plant in south Chicago — would convert coal into synthetic natural gas for home heating. The Chicago plant also may use oil refinery waste. Together, they will cost Illinois consumers $4.6 billion over a decade, according to the report.
While the two plants partially have been permitted, construction has not begun and they face market and regulatory obstacles — such as how they will store the carbon dioxide underground, as they have proposed.
The criticism comes amid uncertainty for the Tenaska project, a proposed $3.5 billion power plant that would serve Taylorville residents.The Senate approved it on the condition that consumers buy the energy at five times the current market rate for 30 years.
The company, Nebraska-based Tenaska Inc., now says it wants to build a conventional natural gas power plant — with the option of building the coal-to-gas portions later, with legislative approval.
David Lundy, a consultant from Aileron Inc. that represents Tenaska, said the revised plan would create rate hikes of about 60 cents per month.
The Tenaska bill is coming up for a hearing Wednesday in the House Public Utilities Committee, but Lundy doesn't know if it's going to be debated in the original form or with a new amendment outlining the new plan.
Representatives from Leucadia and Power Holdings did not respond to email and telephone requests for comment.
By Anthony Brino