Coal-fired energy is not our future in Illinois

by Admin
Coal-fired energy is not our future in Illinois

Thanks for the article “Communities urged to double down on coal” (May 26). The article describes how local municipal investors in the coal-fired Prairie State Generating Co. are being courted to continue electrical service with the highly polluting energy beyond 2035 to 2050. What’s missing from these ongoing business discussions about whether to move away from coal? The environmental degradation costs from continued coal usage.

Coal generates more problematic carbon pollution per unit of energy than oil or gas. But as with all fossil fuel-derived energy, producers never pay for the damage made worse by burning their products (more and longer droughts, more intense wildfires and hurricanes, flooding, etc.). Failure to include environmental costs into energy sourcing decisions like these is yet another reason we need federal carbon pricing legislation.

Carbon pricing would help fossil fuels more accurately reflect their true costs. Until that happens, fossil fuels will continue to be priced artificially low at the meter and the pump, markets will remain broke, and the transition to cheaper clean energy will be slowed — to the harm of all.

If passed, pending carbon pricing legislation such as the Energy Innovation Act (HR 5744) would make the decision to exit Prairie State coal by 2035 an easy one.

— Andrew Panelli, Homer Glen

Environment not a partisan issue

Michael Hawthorne’s article in the May 26 Tribune about communities being asked to double down on investments in coal-burning energy generation was alarming in many ways.

But the most important from my point of view was the framing of the discussion as a partisan issue by referring to decarbonization efforts as President Joe Biden’s plan.

This epitomizes the irresponsible role of the news media in America’s current mess.

Environmental issues are physical phenomena. They cannot be made to disappear by insinuating — purposefully or out of careless habit — that they are the invention of one or the other political party. Casting these issues as primarily issues associated with one political party or the other obscures the problems we are facing.

Investing more in coal-fired energy is problematic not because it runs counter to President Joe Biden’s plan. It is problematic because it runs counter to common sense in 2024. Yes, that creates difficult issues, but shouldn’t responsible media report those issues without slipping into partisan tropes?

— Mike Koetting, Chicago

Appealing to downstate utility

Thank you for publishing Michael Hawthorne’s excellent expose regarding the entrapment of dozens of communities in Illinois in the dirty web of coal. Hawthorne’s excellent summary captures my circumstance in Highland in downstate Illinois.

As a member of Greater Highland Area Concerned Citizens, I and others have tried for years to convince the Highland City Council to look for alternatives to Illinois Municipal Electric Agency’s offer of coal for our Highland electric utility.

Hawthorne asks important questions:

If these coal plants IMEA relies on close, who will be responsible? Who will pay for decommissioning, cleanup and an alternate source of electricity? The answer: The ratepayers and the taxpayers will pay.

Why are health and environmental concerns not considered? Coal is the dirtiest, most destructive way to make electricity.

I have additional concerns. Many Highland electric utility users live outside city limits. We cannot vote for or run for the Highland City Council. Yet because Highland electric is considered a “public” utility, the Highland City Council decides who will supply our electricity. There is no “public” in Highland electric if you live outside city limits.

Therefore, Highland electric should not be exempt from being held accountable by the Illinois Commerce Commission and should be required to explain to its ratepayer public who, how, why, when and where our electricity will come from. Let the public have a say if you want to be considered a public utility.

My civil rights as a citizen are discarded because modern life has linked me to Highland electric for my everyday needs. I am not represented at the City Council. I have no say in this important decision of my “public” utility.

My particular problems are important ones. These are shared, in part or in whole, by more than 1 million municipal and cooperative electric ratepayers in Illinois.

— Kay Ahaus, Trenton, Illinois

Naperville’s coal-heavy power

As concerned Naperville residents and members of the Naperville Environment and Sustainability Task Force (NEST), we appreciated the article on the front page of the May 26 Tribune describing the difficult decisions Naperville faces with its coal-heavy electrical supply.

We are rightly concerned about the pressure being exerted on the city by the Illinois Municipal Electric Agency (IMEA) to extend the current contract to 2055, a $2 billion commitment. It is financially risky and could condemn the city to be among the country’s least environmentally friendly communities. The article captures the broader issues succinctly and comprehensively.

Why do we consider an early renewal of the contract to be risky?

IMEA is tied to coal with no plan to transition to clean energy at a time when renewable energy and storage are already cheaper, a trend that is expected to continue. Naperville ratepayers deserve a contract that allows flexibility to take advantage of lower-cost clean energy.

IMEA wants Naperville to sign a new contract by April 2025, but our current contract allows us until September 2030 to provide notice. The longer we wait to decide on our next electricity supplier, the less uncertainty. The less uncertainty, the less risk. Other utilities address uncertainty through regularly updated integrated resource planning, which is absent from the existing and proposed contracts.

It would be fiscally irresponsible to sole-source a $2 billion contract. Due diligence, putting the contract out to bid and public engagement will take time.

Naperville should not be rushed by IMEA’s artificial deadline.

Naperville must also do its part to address the climate crisis. Signing the proposed IMEA contract would put us firmly in the category of environmental laggard. Instead, Naperville can lead in statewide efforts to retire coal. Our community can work together to create a future where low-price, reliable energy is sourced in a sustainable manner.

NEST is a designated task force of the city charged with advising on sustainability issues. We operate independently of the city government, and the views expressed are entirely our own.

— Catherine Clarkin, Maureen Stillman, Barbara Benson and Fernando Arriola, NEST

Creating new transmission lines

The U.S. power grid as it stands today is a major obstacle in efforts to fight climate change. The network consists of three grids (East, West and Texas) and is further divided into 12 transmission planning regions; they share little power between them. This makes it very difficult to build the long-distance power lines needed to transport wind and solar power nationwide.

The climate stakes are high! The billions of dollars approved last year under the Inflation Reduction Act for solar panels, wind turbines, electric cars and other technologies are at risk if the U.S. cannot approve and build new transmission lines at a faster pace.

Just to put it in perspective, transmission capacity would need to more than double to reach the goal of 100% clean electricity generation by 2035.

Plans are underway to upgrade 100,000 miles of transmission lines over the next five years. This will include deploying grid-enhancing technologies (GETs) such as high-performance conductors and dynamic line ratings that will enable existing transmission lines to carry more power.

The Big Wires Act introduced in 2023 would set a minimum requirement for inter-regional transfer capacity and include GETs among the technical options for meeting the requirement. It would require the sharing of energy from regions with excess capacity to other regions facing energy deficits. This in turn would help get clean energy such as solar and wind power from states where it is produced to states where it is needed.

The grid is an important part of our energy system and how we manage it will determine how susceptible we become to weather-related events caused by climate change.

Readers can write their members of Congress at and ask them to support the Big Wires Act (H.R.5551/S.2827).

— Joseph Reitmeyer, Mount Prospect

Submit a letter, of no more than 400 words, to the editor here or email

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