Tenaska: Gold Plated Answer to Nonexistent Problem

In its desperate bid to secure massive subsidies from ratepayers for its proposed coal power plant, Tenaska, the company proposing the Taylorville Energy Center, is flinging around all kinds of dubious and discredited “facts” about its costs, emissions, and most recently, about the need for “base load” generating capacity in Illinois. 

The company’s leading tactic is to scare legislators into believing that Illinois is facing a shortfall in base load generating capacity – in other words, they want us to believe that we’re going to run out of power plants, and they point to upcoming federal air pollution regulations as the reason.  Specifically, their latest paid ad says:  “Industry analysts expect Illinois to lose up to HALF of its coal plants, which currently provide 45% of Illinois electricity.”

To be clear, this is flatly untrue.  We have ample generating capacity and that is not expected to change as a result of proposed environmental regulations. 

Illinois is in no way is in danger of having too few baseload power plants.   In 2009, Illinois power plants generated 30% more electricity than its citizens used to power their homes and businesses.  Put another way, Illinois plants generated 50 million megawatt hours over and above what we need here in the state.  And, that's with much of the capacity we have standing idle.

In addition, state law requires that our utilities make investments in energy efficiency sufficient to lower sales by about 1% annually.  The upshot of this is that most if not all of the growth in demand you would otherwise expect will be address through efficiency, and sales of power will remain relatively constant or may even decline. 

Even more to the point, Illinois is part of two regional power markets, both of which have ample generation capacity and neither of which are in danger of resource inadequacy due to plant retirements.  Study after study has found that we are not facing a shortfall in resource availability.  For example:

Why does Tenaska say that half of the plants in Illinois are going to close?  It’s not clear what “industry analysts” they’re relying upon, but it may well be a discredited January, 2011 study by the Edison Electric Institute.  The Congressional Research Service says of these reports, “The studies sponsored by industry groups (EEI and NERC) were written before EPA proposed most of the rules whose impacts they analysis, and they assumed that the rules would impose more stringent requirements than EPA proposed in many cases.”  The CRS further states,  “There is a substantial amount of excess generation capacity at present, due in part to the recession and also due to the large number of natural gas combined cycle plants constructed in the last decade, muting reliability concerns.”  

The purported reasons to vote for the Tenaska bill have, one-by-one, been thoroughly rebutted.  Billed as clean, its permit shows that it will be among the biggest polluters in the state.  Billed as economic, the Illinois Commerce Commission estimates that it will cost us twice as much as the same amount of power from wind energy.  And finally, billed as needed to replace older power plants, the overwhelming consensus is that we are not facing a shortage of electric generating capacity.  We urge legislators to vote against this plant once again.