May 20, 2016

City officials get an earful on CWLP

By John Reynolds, Staff Writer | The State Journal-Register | May 19, 2016 |

During any given hour of the day, City Water, Light and Power can switch from buying to selling electricity five or six times.

That was just one of the CWLP “facts” shared with a crowd of about 50 people who gathered Thursday night for a public forum on the city-owned utility. The event was a kickoff to a minimum three-part series of meetings designed to educate the public and aldermen on the ins and outs of CWLP.

Scott Gauvin, who chairs the Sierra Club Sangamon Valley Group, said his organization and the Springfield branch of the NAACP have been asking Mayor Jim Langfelder for such a meeting since he took office more than a year ago.

“We hope to begin to shed some light on the various issues going on with CWLP. That includes everything from the financial health to the environmental health of the community and what we believe is a lack of long-range planning on a multitude of issues concerning environmental regulations and just the overall future of where the power plants are going,” Gauvin said.

During Thursday’s forum, one man, Norman Brown, asked about the coal ash ponds at CWLP’s plant on Lake Springfield. Coal ash is byproduct of burning coal, and it is stored in ponds at the plant. The EPA has said the city has to line the ponds to prevent groundwater contamination or stop using them.

Brown asked if the city planned to excavate the coal ash and put it in an underground mine or perhaps take it to a landfill.

Doug Brown, chief utility engineer for CWLP, said the utility is looking at all possibilities, and plans to provide cost estimates for the various solutions at a later date.

“Landfilling would be the most expensive. That’s not something we can’t absorb as a utility. Rates would have to be adjusted to cover that,” Doug Brown said.

Another recurring theme was the city’s wind contract, which requires CWLP to buy wind energy that is more expensive than that generated by traditional power plants.

Ward 10 Ald. Ralph Hanauer said that when he walked his ward, everyone he talked to about the subject wanted the city to get out of the deal, which was pushed by the Sierra Club.

Langfelder said future public forums haven’t been scheduled yet. City officials will review Thursday’s meeting and see if there are any changes that need to be made, he said.

“We’re going to take it in as it comes and try to modify future meetings accordingly,” Langfelder said.

Just before 9 p.m., half an hour after the scheduled end of the two-hour forum, people were still lined up to ask questions.

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