By Brenden Moore
June 7, 2019 - New technology could extend City Water, Light and Power’s coal-fired power generators by a minimum of 10 to 15 years while reducing emissions, a representative from a desulfurization technology company told members of the Springfield City Council Wednesday evening.
Bradley Scott, the chief operating officer of Jiangnan Environmental Technology, walked the council’s Public Utilities Committee through the corporation’s ammonia-based desulfurization process, which he said reduces a coal plant’s emissions and solid waste, produces a byproduct that can be used as a fertilizer and leads to cost savings.
The presentation offered a contrast to the 84-page “integrated resource plan” that was introduced last month. That plan, produced by The Energy Authority (TEA) to map out a plan for the utility’s power generation for the next 20 years, recommended CWLP retire three of its coal-fired generators — Dallman units 1, 2 and 3 — by as early as 2020 after finding that “no scenario economically retained these units.”
TEA had also identified several scenarios where Dallman 4, the city’s newest generator, should be retired, with much of it riding on the price of coal. In any case, the plan clearly suggested a move away from coal and toward natural gas and renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
If CWLP follows TEA’s recommendations, renewables would account for 53 percent of the power generated in 2031.
Coal advocates have scoffed at the recommendations, arguing the IRP did not take every possible scenario — like the desulfurization technology — into account.
Illinois Coal Association President Phil Gonet informed members of the council about the technology a few weeks ago and, wanting to hear from as many different perspectives as possible, the council invited JET to present.
“We got to look at every opportunity we can on how we can proceed because we don’t know where we’re going,” said Ward 1 Ald. Chuck Redpath. “We got a recommendation for the IRP, but that doesn’t mean that’s the final result. That is obviously a recommendation. So we heard from JET tonight and we’re going to hear from some other companies that are going to come in and tell us how to save some money in some other areas.”
Gonet, who attended the meeting Wednesday, called it a “serious omission” to not include the desulfurization as an option to keep the utility’s coal-fired plants burning into the future.
“All I’m asking for is for The Energy Authority to evaluate this technology and present it in the IRP,” said Gonet, who served as CWLP’s general manager in the late 1990s and early 2000s. “In my mind, the IRP is incomplete unless this is evaluated as part of that.”
JET’s technology differs from the scrubbing process that CWLP’s plants utilize in that it uses ammonia instead of limestone to absorb sulfur dioxide. This, Bradley said, makes coal-fired plants cleaner and more comparable to emissions from natural gas-fired power stations.
The byproduct produced from this process is ammonium sulfate, a fertilizer that could be sold to local farmers.
While JET is in ongoing negotiations with 58 coal-fired plants in the United States, Scott acknowledged the technology has never been tried in the country.
The presentation was met with a significant amount of skepticism from members of the public who attended the meeting. Organized by the Sierra Club, Springfield CLEAN and Indivisible Springfield, who characterized the presentation as “an effort by the Illinois Coal Association to pursue ‘clean coal’ rather than plan for the future,” several spoke in opposition to the technology, preferring the council stick with the recommendations made in the IRP.
“With all respect for the people who presented here today, they are not presenting an image of the power plant of the future,” said Amy McEuen, a professor at the University of Illinois Springfield. “No, that is not the power plant of the future. ... The future is clean energy.”
Many also expressed concerns about the use of ammonia and the effects it could have on surrounding communities.
“And for that much ammonia to be on my side of town, you need not worry about it — that cloud might not get over to your end,” said Chase Johnson, pointing to Ward 10 Ald. Ralph Hanauer, who represents the city’s southwest side. “But on this end, Wards 2 and 3, no man, we don’t want it. We talking about people’s lives.”
And others were concerned about Springfield being a “test case” for technology that has not been employed in the states before.
“I’m just so dumbfounded that we’re having these discussions yet again,” said Scott Cross, state coordinator for Indivisible Illinois. “The people want to turn the page. This seems like a boondoggle. Why is Springfield going to be the test case?”
Still, council members said they want to hear from different perspectives before they move forward with a plan for the future of CWLP, even if that includes retaining coal in a more significant way than some would like. This will not be the last meeting on this topic, Redpath said.
“The thing is, we need to do what’s right for our ratepayers, not big special interest groups that come up here and don’t like the way we’re doing things,” Redpath said. “The people that come up here and speak, we let everybody speak, we want to hear their opinion, but the bottom line at the end, the city council is going to make the decision on how we’re going to move forward with the power plant and we want to have all the information in front of us and make sure we’re doing the best we can for the ratepayers.”