City Water, Light and Power could start construction of its new coal-fired generator within days. The Springfield City Council on Thursday approved the latest deal struck between Mayor Tim Davlin’s administration and the Sierra Club.
The agreement, passed 7-3, requires the city to ask the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to modify the new power plant’s operating and construction permits to incorporate stringent emission limits once it’s operational in June 2010.
For its part, the Sierra Club has agreed to drop its objections to the construction permit within two days, allowing the months-delayed project to go forward.
The agreement also requires the city to contract to buy 120 megawatts of wind capacity – 60 for itself and 60 for state government – within 90 days.
Aldermen had already approved ordinances directing CWLP to buy the wind power and to reduce emissions. But the Sierra Club said those ordinances were not good enough because there was no enforcement mechanism.
There were more questions than debate at Thursday’s special meeting to deal with the issue, but one alderman who voted “no” said afterward he was tired of hearing contradictory explanations every time a city official talked about the deal.
Davlin and CWLP general manager Todd Renfrow had assured the council for the past two weeks that there would be no modification of the IEPA permit after the original Sierra Club deal was derailed in September by developer David Maulding and his attorney, Don Craven.
Then, when CWLP released details of the new Sierra Club agreement Wednesday, modification of the permit was included – albeit after the generator is operational.
“Nobody on the council wanted any modification. And now here we are doing modification,” complained Ward 1 Ald. Frank Edwards after the vote. “That’s what’s probably bothered me the most, is people say something and then the next day they say, ‘That’s not what I said.'”
Davlin told reporters after the meeting “nothing’s changed whatsoever” from when the administration first discussed the new agreement.
The original deal would have modified the new power plant’s permit immediately, opening the door for legal challenges such as Maulding’s, who did not want the Sierra Club’s requirements to be part of the permit.
Edwards said he’s also worried that the council has twice approved the purchase of wind power without having seen proof that CWLP’s cost estimates are accurate.
“We voted on something that had a lot of variables,” he said. “How many contracts has the city council voted on that they didn’t know what they’re voting on?”
Another alderman saw Thursday’s vote as simply a way to end the complex and tiring debate.
“The issue is, do we go forward now or do we delay and pay additional money?” said Ward 2 Ald. Frank McNeil, referring to costs associate with a continued delay in construction. “The issue is what’s best for residents and the taxpayers of the city of Springfield.”
Aldermen will be asked to complete one more step in the Sierra Club saga: sign off on an agreement with a wind farm to buy the necessary wind power.
Renfrow pledged again that there would be no need for further electric rate increases because of the deal.
Wind power has been the most contentious part of the pact because of its unknown cost and the fact that the city will have more than enough power from its 200-megawatt plant.
But the Sierra Club and Davlin administration have agreed that the purchase of environmentally friendly wind power will help offset emissions of carbon dioxide from the new generator.
CWLP and its power marketer, Florida-based The Energy Authority, are analyzing eight wind energy bids now and are expected to have pricing information within a month, Renfrow said, adding that aldermen may be asked to approve a contract longer than the original 10-year proposal. He said it may be possible for the city to turn a profit on the wind power under a 20-year deal because of rising energy costs.
State Journal-Register Staff Writer Chris Wetterich can be reached at 788-1523 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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