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Rebecca Stanfield’s Blog

Confused about Tenaska Legislation? It's the same pig, despite the cosmetic surgery.

Rebecca Stanfield

Posted October 19, 2011

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Having failed multiple times to sell legislators on a scheme to charge Illinois ratepayers for high-priced energy from a proposed coal facility in Taylorville, Illinois, the folks at Tenaska have resorted to not just putting lipstick on the pig, but giving the pig a nose-job, liposuction and botox injections.  And as with most cosmetic surgeries – something just doesn’t look quite right about that pig.

A new ad came out Tuesday, suggesting that a good way to “fight rate increases” on our electric bills would be to vote for SB 1653, which requires Illinois ratepayers to foot the bill for a $3.5 billion coal plant in Taylorville, Illinois proposed by the Tenaska Corp.   They call the bill the “Comprehensive Energy Efficiency and Investment Act” – although it is in no way comprehensive energy policy, and its energy efficiency provision is utterly dwarfed by its investment in the coal plant.  Here’s a look at some of the awesome-but-imaginary benefits of the bill claimed in today’s ad.

Voting for Tenaska will increase, not decrease, electric bills.    The ad says that the bill will help “fight rate increases” and “protect consumers.”  In reality, the bill allows homeowners electric bills to go up by 2% to pay for the facility and does not set a cap on bill increases for Illinois businesses.  The Illinois Commerce Commission estimates that power from the Taylorville plant is expected to cost about 21 cents per every kwh.  Generating the same amount of power with wind energy would cost about half as much, and saving the equivalent amount of energy through energy efficiency programs would cost about 3-4 cents per kwh, about one-fifth to one-seventh the cost of the power from Tenaska’s proposed plant. 

Tenaska is not a clean power project, as advertised.  According to the company’s draft updated state emissions permit, the facility would be permitted to emit five million tons of carbon dioxide pollution each year.   While SB 1653 purports to require the facility to sequester half of those carbon emissions, the legislation allows the company to cheaply buy its way out of this requirement.  The company refused to commit to sequestration in their permit application, and the  draft permit from Illinois EPA indicates only that the plant’s carbon pollution may be sequestered at “some point” in the future. 

The ad states that the additional costs will be offset through energy efficiency savings.  In reality, the bill sets out a process whereby the Illinois Power Agency must procure energy efficiency rather than load, if a third party makes a bid to provide that savings at a cost that is lower than supply.  That’s perfectly  fine, but there is no guarantee or requirement that enough savings will be bid into the market to offset the $3.5 billion cost of the coal plant.  Moreover, the third party vendor, rather than the energy consumer, is permitted to pocket most of the difference between their cost of saving energy, and the avoided cost of supply.  In other words, energy efficiency implementers will benefit, but customers will keep far less of the savings than they would keep if the savings were generated as part of the utility programs that customers are accustomed to.

The ad claims that electricity rates are going up 40-60% because of pending environmental regulations.  The ad quotes misinformation that has been thoroughly rebutted by everyone from the Congressional Research Service to a coalition of twelve utilities who have come together to advance common-sense clean air policy.

Requiring ratepayers to foot the bill for 30-year contracts for power from the Tenaska plant has been widely regarded as a bad investment, and it remains so.  We urge legislators to vote against SB 1653.

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Tom WolfOct 19 2011 06:27 PM

Let's face it. There are many times when the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the NRDC are on opposite sides of an energy issue. We think coal can be part of our energy future. We think Canadian oil is a good resource.

But when it comes to Tenaska, we are on the same page. The Legislature is placing a sucker bet on the future of energy. The problem is, they aren't using their money, they are using the business community's money as our member's rates aren't capped nor protected from the high costs of the energy being made at this plant.

We think there is a place for clean coal projects in our future, but they have to work economically and (in the spirit of animal metaphors) this "dog don't hunt."

Earin LandOct 20 2011 06:23 PM

This article quotes old and misleading information. Caps have been added to protect businesses, the five million tons of carbon dioxide is significantly less than any other plant in Illinois (there are NO other plants on the drawing board) and 2 more Amerin coal plants have closed just last month which will increase the cost of electricity thru supply / demand as more plants close to avoid spending millions of dollars to update the plants to emmission regulations. Com Ed is sitting on record stockpiles of spent nuclear rods, stored on site. What happens to these if any disaster strikes like in Japan? Think we're not volunerable? Say hello to the New Madrid fault.

So my question is this: A coal plant with significant restrictions on CO emissions or another ComEd nuke plant? What do you want?

Rebecca StanfieldOct 21 2011 11:07 AM

Quick response to Earin: Three quick points -- (1) A five million ton facility would be among the top ten emission sources in Illinois, a very large new source of carbon emissions; (2) the Ameren plants that closed were small, ancient, inefficient and uneconomical; and (3) Neither new coal nor new nukes are needed to serve Illinois electric customer needs. We can meet new demand with efficiency, and we can replace old dirty plants with clean renewables at a much lower cost to ratepayers.

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