WBEZ | energy http://www.wbez.org/tags/energy Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en U.N. addresses Vatican handling of child sex abuse cases http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2014-02-10/un-addresses-vatican-handling-child-sex-abuse-cases-109676 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/(AP PhotoAlessandra Tarantino)2.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The United Nations has issued a report which says the Vatican, as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, is responsible for implementing its mandate. The report says the Vatican has not done enough to protect children from abuse. We&#39;ll discuss the findings.</p><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-the-u-n-addresses-vatican-handling-of-se/embed?header=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-the-u-n-addresses-vatican-handling-of-se.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-the-u-n-addresses-vatican-handling-of-se" target="_blank">View the story "Worldview: U.N. addresses Vatican handling of child sex abuse cases " on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Mon, 10 Feb 2014 10:55:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2014-02-10/un-addresses-vatican-handling-child-sex-abuse-cases-109676 Political crisis in Egypt, Canada as a petrostate, U.S. policy in Yemen and plants for a cause http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2013-08-15/political-crisis-egypt-canada-petrostate-us-policy-yemen-and-plants <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP115224910253.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>President Obama issues a statement on Egypt. The U.S. embassy in Yemen remains shut after a global terror alert, and a family in Woodstock raises money for a cause by selling plants and crafts.</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F105596737&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-canada-as-a-petrostate-u-s-policy-in-yem.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-canada-as-a-petrostate-u-s-policy-in-yem" target="_blank">View the story "Worldview: Political crisis in Egypt, Canada as a petrostate, U.S. policy in Yemen and plants for a cause" on Storify</a>]</noscript></p></p> Thu, 15 Aug 2013 11:55:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2013-08-15/political-crisis-egypt-canada-petrostate-us-policy-yemen-and-plants Ten years after historic blackout, are we better off? http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/ten-years-after-historic-blackout-are-we-better-108387 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Grid MAIN THUMBNAIL_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">August 14, 2003 Mike Kormos was coming home from a conference when he got a call.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;They said something had happened and I needed to report to the office as soon as possible,&rdquo; he said.</p><p dir="ltr">Kormos rushed to his offices at <a href="http://www.pjm.com/about-pjm.aspx">PJM </a>where he is Executive Vice President of Operations, overseeing part of the electrical grid. Shortly after he got to the office, one of the largest blackouts in history cascaded across the Northeast &nbsp;and Midwest. Over 50 million people lost power in both the U.S. and Canada, including Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto and New York. Some would be without power for two days. The event contributed to 11 deaths and cost between<a href="http://www.elcon.org/Documents/EconomicImpactsOfAugust2003Blackout.pdf">&nbsp;$4 and 8 billion.</a></p><p dir="ltr">Some people&rsquo;s power wouldn&#39;t return until two days later. The cause of the outage was complicated but largely due to infrastructure invented in the era of Thomas Edison.</p><p dir="ltr">The age of the system is why this week, the Obama administration called for increased spending to upgrade the nation&rsquo;s electric power system. There was a time shortly after 9/11, that some thought terrorist activity would make us most vulnerable to major blackouts.</p><p dir="ltr">Because the brownout of 2003 was a few years after 9/11, and blackouts on the big transmission grid are rare, Kormos and his team thought this outage might be a case of terrorism. But later they found out the &nbsp;blackout was partially the fault of another big T.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Trees had interfered with some of the lines and the lines ended up basically tripping,&rdquo; explained Kormos.</p><p dir="ltr">It may seem strange that such a simple thing could contribute to one of the biggest blackouts in history, but this was a case of a domino effect. &nbsp;An Ohio electric company hadn&#39;t trimmed its trees, and so when heavy wires began to droop, they touched the top of branches and tripped. That put extra energy on to other lines, which in turn also drooped under heavier loads and hit trees.</p><p dir="ltr">And Kormos says, there was another big trouble-causing T: tools.</p><p dir="ltr">To understand their importance, you first have to learn how the grid works.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>UNDERSTANDING THE GRID</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://boingboing.net/author/maggie_koerth-baker">Maggie Koerth-Baker</a> is a science columnist and author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0470876255/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;tag=boingbonet-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;creativeASIN=0470876255">Before The Lights go Out.</a> She says we use more energy and produce more emissions through electricity than we do with anything else, including transportation. &nbsp;But because the electrical grid is complicated, we don&rsquo;t think about it as much.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Electricity is like these little elves that live in the walls and you forget that there is all this infrastructure in the background,&rdquo; said Koerth-Baker.</p><p dir="ltr">That&rsquo;s why she wants to make sure folks understand the grid.</p><p>&ldquo;I like to say it&rsquo;s like a lazy river at a water park. It has to move along at a constant speed which is analogous to frequency and it has to move along at a constant depth, which is analogous to what engineers call voltage.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">All along this river are drains which are like people using energy. There are also faucets, filling up the river, that&rsquo;s like companies making energy.</p><p>&ldquo;And if that [balance] gets out of whack by even fractions of a percent, you get blackouts,&rdquo; said Koerth-Baker.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The 2003 blackout was caused by that imbalance between energy supply and demand. That happened for a bunch of reasons, like those trees. But one of the biggest problems is that energy providers couldn&rsquo;t see the problem-- they didn&rsquo;t have the tools to get a picture of where that lazy river had blockages, or overflows, and where they could reroute it.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>CHANGES IN THE GRID</strong></p><p dir="ltr">A lot has changed in the 10 years since the blackout. New technology, like p<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phasor_measurement_unit">hasor measurement units (PMUs)</a>, give more accurate pictures of what happens on the grid. Kormos compares what they had in 2003 to an x-ray, and what they have today, to an MRI. There are also new regulations as a result of the blackout, such as high fees for not trimming trees and mandatory training. Experts say all that means blackouts on the scale of 2003 are less likely today. But they also say we need to be doing a lot more to be ready for the future.</p><p dir="ltr">John Estey is the Executive Chair at <a href="http://www.sandc.com/">S&amp;C Electric Company,</a> a business that makes energy products to build smart grids.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;A smart grid is the use of intelligent controls, software communication and automation to help improve the reliability and the efficiency of the delivery of electricity,&rdquo; he explained. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a grid with a lot of brains.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">To show me what that means, Estey takes me to big warehouse room with a miniature city &nbsp;inside it. The city has real lights and electrical wires. But this isn&rsquo;t just any city, it&rsquo;s a city that has upgraded to a smart grid.</p><p dir="ltr">Estey points to little boxes on top of the electrical poles and explains they are smart devices. Each of the boxes takes measurements and tells the other devices how much energy they are carrying, if there are any problems, and how energy might be rerouted.</p><p dir="ltr">For the sake of demonstration, the warehouse has a big switch that mimics the power of God. It can short-circuit wires or take an entire energy plant offline. Estey tells a colleague to pretend that someone using a backhoe hit an underground electrical wire. The system shuts down the area around the severed wire, so dangerous electricity isn&rsquo;t running through it. Then the power automatically routes around the problem so people in surrounding areas don&rsquo;t lose their power.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The streets stayed on through the whole thing,&rdquo; Estey declared proudly.</p><p dir="ltr">In an old grid, there wouldn&rsquo;t be any smart boxes to locate the problem. The company would have to wait until people called in to report it. Then they&rsquo;d drive around just looking for the downed wire. Once they found it, they&rsquo;d have to reroute each switch manually. That can take hours, instead of seconds and leave thousands, instead of hundreds, without electricity.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MOVING THE GRID FORWARD</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://boingboing.net/author/maggie_koerth-baker">Maggie Koerth-Baker</a> says in addition to stopping blackouts, the way we updated the grid will determine what we can do over the next 30 years in terms of all kinds of energy infrastructure, like using renewables. So what&rsquo;s in the way?</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We [need to] invest $8 billion a year to make the grid stronger. $17-20 billion dollars to make it smarter,&rdquo; said Koerth-Baker.</p><p dir="ltr">That sounds like a lot of money. But experts estimate that blackouts cost U.S. customers $<a href="http://emp.lbl.gov/sites/all/files/REPORT%20lbnl%20-%2058164.pdf">79 billion each yea</a>r and savings with a smart grid could be as high as $<a href="http://tli.umn.edu/blog/security-technology/u-s-electrical-grid-gets-less-reliable-as-outages-increase-and-rd-decreases/">49 billion a year.</a></p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;But because we don&rsquo;t have the incentives in place for anybody to be thinking about and benefiting financially from &nbsp;those long term changes, there is nobody really paying attention to them&rdquo; said Koerth-Baker.</p><p dir="ltr">For example, smart grids would make it easier for people to add solar panels to their houses. They could produce energy for themselves, but also put it back on the grid or provide energy to their neighbors. But why would a company that makes money selling energy, pay to build something that might lower their profits?</p><p dir="ltr">That&#39;s just one of many questions regulators across the country are working to solve. Next in the series Flipping the Switch, we&rsquo;ll explore some of the political and social factors that are helping and hindering improvements to our current electrical grid.</p><p><br /><em>Shannon Heffernan is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/shannon_h">@shannon_h</a></em></p></p> Tue, 13 Aug 2013 07:16:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/ten-years-after-historic-blackout-are-we-better-108387 Chicago electricity and fracking: An update http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-electricity-and-fracking-update-108130 <p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-electricity-and-fracking-update-108130#janice">this story has been updated</a> with our question-asker&#39;s progress.&nbsp;</em></p><p>A few weeks back, we looked at this question from Curious Citizen Janice Thomson:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>Now that Chicago has a new electricity supplier, how much of the city&rsquo;s energy would ultimately come from natural gas via fracking?</em></p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s municipal electricity aggregation deal (approved by voters in 2012) <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago%E2%80%99s-energy-deal-%E2%80%98f%E2%80%99-fracking-107932">left Janice and other proponents of renewable energy feeling duped</a>, as the city&rsquo;s pledge to eliminate coal from its fuel mix didn&rsquo;t necessarily translate into a big push for renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. &nbsp;</p><p>When it comes to fracking (technically &ldquo;high-volume hydraulic fracturing&rdquo;), though, here are the takeaways from our first answer: &nbsp;</p><ul><li><p>Chicago&rsquo;s new energy supplier, Integrys, has a portfolio that is &ldquo;primarily&rdquo; natural gas.</p></li><li><p>In 2012, 40 percent of the nation&#39;s natural gas production came from shale formations, and that percentage is rising. A good deal of that new production is derived from fracking, which is being <a href="http://phys.org/news/2013-05-fracking-ground.html">scrutinized as a possible source of groundwater contamination</a>.</p></li><li><p>At least some of Chicago&rsquo;s electricity is generated from natural gas derived via fracking, but it&rsquo;s impossible to know exactly how much because the nation&rsquo;s gas supply is not divided by fracked and conventional sources.</p></li></ul><p>But shortly after <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago%E2%80%99s-energy-deal-%E2%80%98f%E2%80%99-fracking-107932">our story</a> came out, Chicago&rsquo;s City Hall announced that&nbsp;the electricity aggregation deal will <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/city%E2%80%99s-power-deal-boosts-wind-energy-108003">double the city&rsquo;s share of wind power to 5 percent of the total</a>, and even tied that directly to two downstate wind farms. But it&rsquo;s also clear that the deal largely traded one fossil fuel for another; yes, the city would stop using coal to supply electricity and 5 percent will come from wind, but nearly all of the rest (about 95 percent) will be derived from burning natural gas.</p><p>So, what &mdash; if anything &mdash; changes when it comes to answering Janice&#39;s question?</p><p><strong>More power from PA, U.S.A &nbsp;</strong></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Capture4.GIF" style="float: right; margin: 5px; height: 139px; width: 250px;" title="Janice Thomson's question inspired our survey on energy choices. A link on the top left of this post leads you there. You can see results there, too. " />Integrys, the city&rsquo;s new energy supplier, will need to make sure Chicago has enough non-coal electricity on hand to meet demand. To do that, the company&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/city%E2%80%99s-power-deal-boosts-wind-energy-108003">tapped a previously underused natural gas power plant</a> in Pennsylvania. <a href="http://www.nexteraenergyresources.com/content/where/portfolio/pdf/Marcus_Hook.pdf/">The Marcus Hook power station</a>, located about 20 miles south of Philadelphia, is set to meet the 95 percent of Chicago&rsquo;s electricity supply not coming from Illinois wind.</p><p>As Marcus Hook revs up to provide the equivalent of most of Chicago&rsquo;s electricity needs, should Janice be more or less concerned about fracking?</p><p>Unfortunately, plant owner NextEra Energy Resources would not disclose the source of its natural gas, but nationally about a third of domestically produced natural gas is obtained through fracking &mdash; a number expected to top 50 percent by 2035, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Likewise Pennsylvania&rsquo;s natural gas resources are predominantly obtained via fracking, but that doesn&rsquo;t mean Marcus Hook is necessarily buying Pennsylvania gas. The state <a href="http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=2870">accounts for almost two-thirds</a> of northeast natural gas production, however, and 80 percent of that is from fracking.</p><p>Without other definitive sources available, though, we&rsquo;re right back where we started: It&rsquo;s extremely likely that some of Chicago&rsquo;s electricity is now coming from natural gas derived from fracking, but we can&rsquo;t be precise with the amount.</p><p><strong>Are there other benefits to report?</strong></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/janice%20thomson_2.jpg" style="margin: 5px; float: left; height: 160px; width: 250px;" title="Janice Thomson asked Curious City about natural gas and its relationship to Chicago's electricity aggregation contract. (Photo courtesy of Janice Thomson)" />Janice&rsquo;s question is about fracking, but she&rsquo;s also interested in sustainability in general, and judging from responses we&rsquo;ve gotten to our <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/power-struggle-who%E2%80%99s-your-energy-provider-108077">survey on energy choices</a>, plenty of other people are interested, too.</p><p>One source on this is a <a href="http://www.perfectpowerinstitute.org/sites/default/files/Chicago%20CCA%20Preliminary%20Report.pdf">report by the Illinois Institute of Technology&rsquo;s Perfect Power Institute</a>.</p><p>PPI laid out at least three points that get into whether there&rsquo;s improvement. On the side of air quality, the report suggests Chicago&rsquo;s electricity aggregation deal, including the new provision for local wind power and natural gas, reduced nitrogen oxide emissions by 98 percent. NOx, as it&rsquo;s called, is a known contributor to local ozone pollution as well as acid rain. &nbsp;</p><p>The report also suggests the city&rsquo;s electricity aggregation deal will conserve water that&rsquo;s used in the process of making electricity &mdash; the equivalent of the annual consumption of about 12,500 households. These calculations were made using data Marcus Hook reported to the federal government.</p><p><strong>The carbon question</strong></p><p>But what about climate change? The bottom line for the city&rsquo;s carbon footprint is complicated. Before Chicago ratepayers voted to let the city buy electricity in bulk on their behalf, about 40 percent of their power came from coal-fired power plants. Another one third came from nuclear &mdash; a much larger share than is typical, due to Illinois&rsquo; relatively high number of nuclear power plants. Except when Marcus Hook is down due outages, Integrys will be buying little nuclear power on Chicago&rsquo;s behalf. Essentially zero-carbon energy, nuclear power has a very small greenhouse gas footprint. By comparison, coal makes a large contribution to greenhouse gas emissions per unit of power produced.</p><p>The PPI report said that the city&rsquo;s switch from a combo of coal and nuclear to (mostly) natural gas led to a 16 percent reduction in carbon emissions. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;If it [the sources the deal replaced] had been all coal,&rdquo; said the Perfect Power Institute&rsquo;s John Kelly, &ldquo;we would have been talking about easily more than a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions.&rdquo;</p><p>Kelly added that the city&rsquo;s power supply emissions report will be updated every year to reflect the Marcus Hook plant&rsquo;s performance.</p><p>The 16 percent reduction figure, though, depends on methane leakage figures that are the subject of scientific debate. Gas burns much more cleanly at the power plant than coal. But while leakage during combustion gets attention, not as much is known about greenhouse gas leakage during the delivery and processing of natural gas &mdash; activities that have ballooned in recent years as a result of the U.S. shale gas boom.</p><p>As the PPI report itself mentions, &ldquo;Methane escapes in the harvesting of natural gas from wells, during the processing that cleans it up for use, and from distributing it through the pipeline transmission networks. CO2 also leaks or is generated in gas production, processing and delivery systems.&rdquo; Methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.</p><p>The PPI study was actually rare among such studies in its attention to the issue of methane leakage. Nationally the boom in high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has raised the issue of methane leakage, as national energy policy proposals attempt to reconcile an increase in domestic fossil fuel production with the potentially conflicting goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.</p><p>Steven Stengel, a spokesman for the company, said the piping that supplies Marcus Hook with gas &ldquo;doesn&rsquo;t come anywhere near&rdquo; the EPA&rsquo;s reporting requirement threshold of 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Perfect Power Institute&rsquo;s calculation for greenhouse gas emissions from methane leakage, therefore, came from national averages for so-called fugitive emissions.</p><p>&ldquo;EPA has really cracked down on the gas industry about letting the methane leak,&rdquo; said PPI&rsquo;s John Kelly. &ldquo;Over the last two years these numbers have come down.&rdquo;</p><p>Earlier this year<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/epa-rolls-back-methane-emissions-natural-gas-106891"> EPA revised down its estimate of methane emissions from natural gas between 1990 and 2010</a> to reflect changing industry practices. The Marcus Hook plant&rsquo;s design, for example, is more efficient than older models, which let a substantial portion of gas get through.</p><p><strong>Other options</strong></p><p>It&rsquo;s worth remembering that Janice&rsquo;s original question was about the fuel mix for Chicagoans&rsquo; default electricity provider. As we mention in our <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/power-struggle-who%E2%80%99s-your-energy-provider-108077">survey post</a> and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago%E2%80%99s-energy-deal-%E2%80%98f%E2%80%99-fracking-107932">original answer</a>, though, there are alternative suppliers. The bad news is that the options are sometimes hard to compare with one another or, as is the case with our look into Integrys&rsquo; portfolio, data are limited and can&rsquo;t illuminate every question we&rsquo;d have about those choices.</p><p><strong>An update from Janice<a name="janice"></a></strong></p><p>Our intrepid question-asker Janice decided to investigate the options further. We thought folks interested in alternative energy supply would be curious to know what she found. Here&#39;s an update from Janice on August 22, 2013. &nbsp;</p><p><em>As promised, I did investigate alternative electricity suppliers that would purchase Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) on my behalf. The only supplier I could find that purchases RECs from Illinois was Viridian Energy. Most of the others seem to purchase RECs from wind farms in other states, especially Texas. These RECs are so cheap that the electricity cost was about the same as from Integrys. So switching would be painless and might send a message to Integrys that natural gas is not ok.</em></p><p><em>I want to help green the electricity grid that serves Chicago though, and purchasing RECs from Texas wind farms wouldn&rsquo;t do that. So I signed up for Viridian Energy&rsquo;s 100% wind power (Green-E certified &ldquo;green energy&rdquo;) fixed rate plan for 12 months. At .0649/kWh, it&rsquo;s slightly more expensive than the other suppliers, but not that much (Integrys currently charges 0.05589/kWh for mostly &ldquo;brown energy&rdquo;). The RECs are mostly from Illinois wind farms. Viridian Energy will also donate some funds (I couldn&rsquo;t get an answer as to how much exactly) to a local charity of my choosing. So it seemed the best I could do right now. I&rsquo;ll reevaluate my options in a year.&nbsp;</em></p><p><em>By the way, I was told some crazy things by electricity company reps. For example, a Verde customer service representative told me that they don&rsquo;t buy RECs and the electricity entering my home would literally come directly from renewable sources. Knowing this was untrue, I emailed Verde&rsquo;s corporate office to ask from where they purchased RECs. They then told me all of their electricity in Chicago was in fact &ldquo;brown&rdquo;!<br /><br />Finding a way to lobby the city to increase the percentage of renewable energy in the electricity aggregation contract is proving challenging! Most of what I found online is out of date. I e-mailed three environmental organizations about this topic, but haven&rsquo;t gotten any responses yet. &nbsp;</em></p><p>Thanks, Janice for your ace reporting and for asking a question that brought us so much new information!</p><p><em>Chris Bentley writes about the environment for WBEZ. Follow him at<a href="http://twitter.com/cementley"> @cementley</a>.</em></p></p> Sun, 21 Jul 2013 23:59:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-electricity-and-fracking-update-108130 Power struggle: Who’s your energy provider? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/power-struggle-who%E2%80%99s-your-energy-provider-108077 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Rig_wind_river_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Curious City producers and reporters are usually hard at work answering your <a href="http://curiouscity.wbez.org/#!/archive/all">growing list of questions</a>. But every now and then, an answer or even a listener comment stops us dead in our tracks, and we&rsquo;ll say to one another: Why don&rsquo;t we ask more people about this?</p><p>That&rsquo;s what happened after we took on this question from Janice Thomson of Chicago&rsquo;s North Center neighborhood:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>Now that Chicago has a new electricity supplier, how much of the city&rsquo;s energy would ultimately come from natural gas via fracking?</em></p><p>We&rsquo;re curious how Chicagoans and others take something that Janice told us after environment reporter <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago%E2%80%99s-energy-deal-%E2%80%98f%E2%80%99-fracking-107932">Chris Bentley laid out an answer</a>. If you&#39;re already familiar with Janice&#39;s story and figure you&#39;re ready to weigh in, <a href="#Poll">our survey below awaits</a>. If you&#39;re still a little shaky on the details, though, we should first unpack her question just a bit. So, what is fracking (otherwise known as high-volume hydraulic fracturing)? Here&rsquo;s the skinny from Bentley:</p><blockquote><p>&nbsp;&ldquo;... drillers blast water, fine sand and chemicals to break up porous rock containing fossil fuels, and horizontal drilling, which allows a single rig to explore long, flat sedimentary rock formations thousands of feet underground without drilling straight down from the surface many times.&rdquo;</p></blockquote><p>As for that &ldquo;new electricity supplier&rdquo; bit? Well, Chicago switched energy providers late last year, and Integrys won the city&rsquo;s contract. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago%E2%80%99s-energy-deal-%E2%80%98f%E2%80%99-fracking-107932">The gist</a>:</p><ul><li>Integrys&rsquo; portfolio is &ldquo;primarily&rdquo; natural gas.</li><li>In 2012, 40 percent of the nation&#39;s natural gas production came from shale formations, and that percentage is rising. A good deal of that new production is derived from fracking.</li><li>It&rsquo;s impossible to know exactly how much of Chicago&rsquo;s electricity is generated from natural gas derived via fracking, but some of it is, since the nation&rsquo;s gas supply is not divided by fracked and conventional sources.</li></ul><p>Just last week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s office announced Chicago is <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/city%E2%80%99s-power-deal-boosts-wind-energy-108003">increasing its supply of wind energy</a>. A month ago, Illinois lawmakers passed the most restrictive high-volume oil and gas drilling regulations in the country.</p><p>News about fracking in Illinois is still rolling in. Yet, Curious City&rsquo;s investigation is making Thomson rethink her energy options right now.</p><blockquote><p>&ldquo;As a consumer, I do now plan to &ldquo;opt out&rdquo; of the default Integrys electricity supplier and sign up with a 100% renewable energy supplier. I initially wasn&rsquo;t too keen on the idea of renewable energy credits (which remind me of carbon offsets), but it sounds like that&rsquo;s the best I can do living in Chicago.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p></blockquote><p>Purchasing renewable energy credits from companies offering green energy plans is one option and perhaps the most economical one. Illinois&rsquo; Citizens Utility Board, a watchdog group that looks out for energy consumers&rsquo; interests, <a href="http://www.citizensutilityboard.org/ciElectric_cubfacts_alternativesuppliers.html">lists alternative electricity suppliers</a>. People can generate their own power, but that is often a pricey upfront investment, said David Kolata, CUB executive director. Still, conservation remains the easiest, most effective option, he said, adding that there are many steps people can take towards energy efficiency.</p><p>Below, we&#39;ve prepared a (very) short survey about whether you&#39;ve considered your own electricity supply options and whether you&#39;ve taken action about it. We invite you to give your two cents. When you&#39;re done, click the link that reads <a name="Poll"></a>&quot;See previous responses&quot; to see how others answered.&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="450" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" src="https://docs.google.com/forms/d/179KmxKnNPIqDYyb8PyjeS9A0RqnvVI1QC93VhMrW5XA/viewform?embedded=true" width="620">Loading...</iframe></p><h2><strong>Selected poll responses</strong></h2><p><script type="text/javascript" src="//ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/static/modules/gviz/1.0/chart.js"> {"dataSourceUrl":"//docs.google.com/a/chicagopublicradio.org/spreadsheet/tq?key=0Ai7E2pZ6aCZtdEJpb2RfMXpFWnRtS01lOFRpY0ROclE&transpose=0&headers=1&range=H1%3AH66&gid=0&pub=1","options":{"titleTextStyle":{"fontSize":16},"series":{"0":{"hasAnnotations":true},"1":{"hasAnnotations":true}},"showRowNumber":false,"animation":{"duration":0},"width":620,"hAxis":{"useFormatFromData":true,"title":"Horizontal axis title","minValue":null,"viewWindow":{"min":null,"max":null},"maxValue":null},"vAxes":[{"useFormatFromData":true,"title":"Left vertical axis title","minValue":null,"viewWindow":{"min":null,"max":null},"maxValue":null},{"useFormatFromData":true,"minValue":null,"viewWindow":{"min":null,"max":null},"maxValue":null}],"sortColumn":null,"title":"Chart title","booleanRole":"certainty","height":320,"page":"enable","legend":"right"},"state":{},"view":{},"isDefaultVisualization":true,"chartType":"Table","chartName":"Chart 1"} </script></p></p> Wed, 17 Jul 2013 02:03:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/power-struggle-who%E2%80%99s-your-energy-provider-108077 Chicago’s energy deal: An ‘F’ for fracking? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago%E2%80%99s-energy-deal-%E2%80%98f%E2%80%99-fracking-107932 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/fracking%20topper%202.jpg" title="Fracking operation near Shreveport, Louisiana. (Flickr/danielfoster437)" /></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F99525534&amp;color=00bdff&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: Chris Bentley answered Janice Thomson&#39;s question about a week before Chicago&#39;s City Hall announced new developments regarding the municipal aggregation deal mentioned here. In an <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-electricity-and-fracking-update-108130">update</a>, we take another look at the question posed here, given that there&#39;s new information on the role of wind power and natural gas in the city&#39;s municipal aggregation contract.</em><em>&nbsp;But Janice&#39;s question also prompted us to wonder if other people are considering choosing alternative electricity providers. We&#39;ve been hearing from many people about why or why not. You can <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/power-struggle-who%E2%80%99s-your-energy-provider-108077">have your say</a> right now as well.&nbsp;</em></p><p>Curious Citizen Janice Thomson does not consider herself an environmentalist.</p><p>&ldquo;Environmentalist has this different kind of connotation,&rdquo; said the northsider. &ldquo;I think of environmentalists as people who go hiking. And I don&rsquo;t. But I&rsquo;m obviously concerned about impacts on our earth, our air, our ability to grow food.&rdquo;</p><p>After five years living in Brussels, Belgium she got used to regular media coverage of climate change and renewable energy. Back in the U.S., even a<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/20/science/earth/arctic-sea-ice-stops-melting-but-new-record-low-is-set.html"> record low in arctic sea ice</a> failed to elicit any mention of the issue during the 2012 presidential debates &mdash; <a href="http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/23/the-issue-that-dare-not-speak-its-name/?_r=0">the first time that has happened since 1988</a>.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/janice thomson.jpg" style="height: 175px; width: 275px; float: right;" title="Curious citizen Janice Thomson says she felt duped by the definition of clean energy Chicago used in electricity aggregation language." /></p><p>&ldquo;When I came back to Chicago [in 2011] I was looking for a renewable supplier for my energy,&rdquo; Thomson said. Along with about 56 percent of Chicago voters, she voted yes on the<a href="http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=210191"> 2012 referendum</a> for<a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/progs/Electricity%20Aggregation/GeneralAggregationPresentation.pdf"> municipal electricity aggregation</a>, hoping it would expand the market for wind and solar power.</p><p>Then she got a letter from Integrys Energy Services, the city&rsquo;s new electricity supplier, touting the city&rsquo;s &ldquo;cleaner&rdquo; energy supply.</p><p>Chicago struck a two-year contract with Integrys, replacing Exelon subsidiary Commonwealth Edison and reportedly saving households $150 on average per year by 2015.<a href="http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20130104/NEWS11/130109930/city-reveals-integrys-winning-energy-bid"> <em>Crain&#39;s Chicago Business</em></a> reported Integrys won the deal with a fee of about $8.8 million, about two thirds the price of runner-up Exelon. Energy prices change daily, and low prices are not guaranteed forever, but the contract gives the city an option to switch after May 2014.</p><p>The deal didn&rsquo;t deal just with energy, costs, though; it also eliminated coal, which used to provide roughly 40 percent of Chicago&rsquo;s power, from the city&rsquo;s fuel mix. So our Curious Citizen wanted to know:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>Now that Chicago has a new electricity supplier, how much of the city&rsquo;s energy would ultimately come from natural gas via fracking?</em></p><p>Jennifer Block, a spokeswoman for Integrys, said the new fuel mix would be &ldquo;primarily&rdquo; natural gas. Integrys buys electricity wholesale from many power plants and passes it along to distributors like ComEd. The company won&rsquo;t divulge which power plants it buys from, which can and do vary constantly based on the price of those power plants&rsquo; electricity. Integrys can&rsquo;t track individual electrons as they make their way through the grid, so Chicago&rsquo;s no-coal requirement just means Integrys will need to verify that at any given time they have enough non-coal power in their possession to satisfy all of the city&rsquo;s demand. Because it is currently inexpensive, natural gas-fired electricity will satisfy the brunt of that demand.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/crawford%20coal%20chris%20betley.jpg" style="height: 185px; width: 315px; float: left;" title="The Crawford coal-fired electricity generating facility, one of two southwest side coal plants closed in 2012, sits along the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. (Flickr/Chris Bentley)" /></p><p>But for Thomson and self-identifying environmentalists alike, trading one fossil fuel for another might be considered a <a href="http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pyrrhic%20victory">Pyrrhic victory</a> at best. &ldquo;I didn&rsquo;t know that clean energy wasn&rsquo;t the same as renewable energy,&rdquo; Thomson said.</p><p>The city&rsquo;s requirement that its new energy supplier drop coal was the first of its kind, and the<a href="http://cleanpowerchicago.org/"> Chicago Clean Power Coalition</a> endorsed aggregation as a means to promote renewable energy in the future. Currently the city&rsquo;s deal only requires Integrys to meet <a href="http://www.dsireusa.org/incentives/incentive.cfm?Incentive_Code=IL04R">the state Renewable Portfolio Standard</a> (RPS), which rose this year to 7 percent. The RPS ramps up gradually in pursuit of the state&rsquo;s 25 percent by 2025 goal. Solar, wind, biomass, hydroelectric, anaerobic digestion, biodiesel and landfill gas &mdash; methane, essentially natural gas, recovered from landfills &mdash; count towards the state&rsquo;s RPS, but natural gas mined from the earth through fracking or other methods does not.</p><p><a href="http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-and-you/affect/natural-gas.html">According to the Environmental Protection Agency</a>, natural gas-fired power plants emit about half as much carbon dioxide, less than a third as much nitrogen oxides, and one percent as much sulfur oxides as coal plants. That&rsquo;s the main basis for calling natural gas a &ldquo;clean&rdquo; fuel &mdash; it&rsquo;s clean compared to coal.</p><p>&ldquo;Clean sounds nice,&rdquo; Thomson said, &ldquo;but it doesn&rsquo;t mean what you think it does. I felt duped.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>The &lsquo;F&rsquo; Word</strong></p><p>Thomson shares many environmentalists negative opinion of the controversial drilling process of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking. Joining the religious environmental consortium<a href="http://faithinplace.org/"> Faith in Place</a> on a lobbying trip to Springfield, Janice helped call<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/madigan-mell-push-two-year-ban-fracking-106109"> for a moratorium on fracking</a>, and then later, when an outright ban seemed unlikely, for strong regulations on the practice. Governor Pat Quinn<a href="http://soundcloud.com/afternoonshiftwbez/frack"> signed the regulatory bill into law</a> on June 17.</p><p>While emissions from natural gas power plants are substantially lower than those from coal plants, the process of extracting and transporting the resource is fraught with technical challenges.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/silverfuture%20stop%20illinois%20fracking.jpg" style="height: 225px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="A protest against fracking in Illinois from July 2012. (Flickr/silverfuture)" /></p><p>&ldquo;Unconventional&rdquo; oil and gas resources are so-named because they have previously been impossible to dig up economically. But innovations in drilling technology have brought together fracking, in which drillers blast water, fine sand and chemicals to break up porous rock containing fossil fuels, and horizontal drilling, which allows a single rig to explore long, flat sedimentary rock formations thousands of feet underground without drilling straight down from the surface many times. The resulting practice has opened up massive stores of previously out-of-reach oil and gas.</p><p>It has also sparked environmental concerns. When well casings fail, for example, fracking fluid &nbsp;and other material<a href="http://phys.org/news/2013-05-fracking-ground.html"> can contaminate groundwater</a>. Drillers recover much of the fluid used in fracking, but some is left deep underground. And in areas stricken by drought,<a href="http://www.reporternews.com/news/2013/jun/16/texas-illinois-fracking-fuels-water-fights-nations/"> the water-intensive process has sparked fights</a> over water use.</p><p>Then there&rsquo;s global warming. Methane, the primary component of natural gas,<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-05/more-methane-epa-reexamines-potency-greenhouse-gas-107148"> is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide</a>, and how much of it leaks into the atmosphere as a result of fracking<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/epa-rolls-back-methane-emissions-natural-gas-106891"> is a topic of heated debate</a>. Many environmentalists argue even if methane leakage is low, the math says<a href="http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719"> we have to start leaving fossil fuels in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change</a>.</p><p>The drilling industry calls Illinois&rsquo; regulations the toughest in the nation, noting provisions for water quality monitoring and oversight from state environmental agencies. In 2010 Congress ordered the EPA to investigate whether fracking posed risks to drinking water, with results expected in 2014.<a href="http://grist.org/news/epa-delays-fracking-safety-study-until-2016/"> The results of that study were recently delayed until 2016</a>.</p><p><strong>Curious kilowatts</strong></p><p>Drillers<a href="http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/news/us/southern-illinois-counties-seeing-fracking-rush-682303/"> have already leased land in 17 Illinois counties</a> and, according to <a href="http://www.pantagraph.com/news/state-and-regional/illinois/high-volume-fracking-already-underway-in-ill/article_48600bc8-c87c-11e2-9335-001a4bcf887a.html">an Associated Press investigation</a> of state records, at least one company has already attempted high-volume fracking in the state. But the Illinois Oil and Gas Association&rsquo;s Brad Richards said it will likely be at least six months before the first permit is issued.</p><p>&ldquo;Realistically this thing&rsquo;s a year or more out before we see any significant production going to market,&rdquo; Richards said, noting that test wells first need to verify how much oil and gas is actually in Illinois&rsquo; New Albany Shale play. Drilling itself takes time, and pipeline infrastructure would have to be built to transport large quantities of gas.</p><p>Even when they do hit the market, Illinois&rsquo; resources are heavily weighted towards oil, not gas. Gas is very cheap at the moment, Richards said, &ldquo;And these companies wouldn&rsquo;t be here leasing if they believed it were a dry gas play.&rdquo;</p><p>Conventional production in Illinois is almost entirely oil, with very little gas. So especially in the near term, Chicago&rsquo;s natural gas-fired electricity almost certainly isn&rsquo;t coming from downstate.</p><p>Nationally about 40 percent of U.S. natural gas production was from shale formations in 2012, according to Jonathan Cogan of the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That share is growing, so it&rsquo;s likely that at least some of the electricity Integrys buys from natural gas power plants comes ultimately from fracking.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/U.S.%20Energy%20Information%20Administration.png" style="height: 213px; width: 320px; float: left;" title="The natural gas supply, according to U.S. EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2012, in trillions of cubic feet per year, projected to 2035. Unconventional gas plays a significant and growing role. (U.S. Energy Information Administration)" /></p><p>It&rsquo;s impossible to tell exactly how much fracked natural gas ends up as electricity in Chicago, Integrys&rsquo; Jennifer Block said. The same problem afflicts opponents of particular types of oil.</p><p>&ldquo;People sometimes want to boycott products made from Canadian Oil, for example,&rdquo; said the Illinois Oil and Gas Association&rsquo;s Brad Richards, &ldquo;but once it hits the refinery, oil is oil, baby. The golf balls, the plastic bags, the gas in your tank &mdash; who knows where what came from.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Other options? </strong></p><p>Someone like our Curious Citizen who wants to avoid any connection with fracking could opt-out of the Integrys program altogether without a cancellation fee. Many suppliers offer customers &ldquo;100 percent green&rdquo; options, which generally rely on Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs).</p><p>Essentially renewable energy derivatives, RECs accumulate at any renewable energy power plant that generates electricity. A wind farm in Iowa, for example, could sell its RECs to a city in Illinois looking to offset pollution from a predominantly fossil fuel-fired electricity supplier.</p><p>Consider Evanston. The north suburb&rsquo;s own electricity aggregation deal calls for an audit of the electricity supplier &mdash; at first Constellation, now Verde Energy &mdash; to make sure they are purchasing enough RECs to offset 100 percent of the city&rsquo;s electricity use. According to<a href="https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.icc.illinois.gov%2Fdownloads%2Fpublic%2FIL%20Disclosure%20Label%20June%202013.pdf"> their most recent environmental disclosure statement</a>, Verde&rsquo;s actual electricity still comes mostly from fossil fuels. But Evanston&rsquo;s sustainability coordinator, Catherine Hurley, said RECs move the market nonetheless.</p><p>&ldquo;Wind energy assets run at a very small margin, so the additional revenue stream that RECs offer really does help make the case for developing renewable energy,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Currently it&rsquo;s the best, easiest and cheapest option for us to take the next step forward.&rdquo;<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/ice%20bear%20chris%20bentley.jpg" style="height: 199px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="Outside Evanston's Chandler-Newberger Community Center, the city's newly installed Ice Bear whirs on a hot summer day. The system makes ice to store energy at night, when electricity generation is less expensive, and releases it as the ice melts during the day to cool the building. A pilot project, the Ice Bear is part of Evanston's electricity aggregation deal with energy supplier Verde. (Flickr/Chris Bentley)" /></p><p>Verde&rsquo;s contract with Evanston offsets 100 percent of the city&rsquo;s energy with RECs at a rate lower than competitors.</p><p>&ldquo;The reason to do it is two-fold,&rdquo; said Evanston&rsquo;s mayor, Elizabeth Tisdahl. &ldquo;It saves money and it reduces your carbon footprint. What could be better?&rdquo;</p><p>And no matter what supplier a consumer chooses, there is one universal option to lessen demand for nonrenewable resources.</p><p>&ldquo;One thing consumers can do is use less,&rdquo; said Tom Wolf, of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. &ldquo;Every kilowatt you don&rsquo;t use is one that doesn&rsquo;t have to be produced.&rdquo;</p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/does-electricity-aggregation-do-enough-renewable-energy-106760">RECs may not be the ideal means of encouraging renewable energy deployment</a>, but they are a useful tool for communities like Evanston that aren&rsquo;t near many utility-scale renewable energy power plants. Likewise municipal aggregation itself could give a voice to citizens who want more control over their power supply.</p><p>&ldquo;In 2012 Chicago asked the question of which suppliers can give us coal free electricity,&rdquo; said The Sierra Club&rsquo;s Illinois Chapter Director Jack Darin. &ldquo;In the future Chicago or other cities are free to ask, &lsquo;Who can give us gas-fired power that didn&rsquo;t come from fracking?&rsquo; We&rsquo;re just really at the tip of the iceberg in innovation here &hellip; at the end of the day the demand for all energy starts with us.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Chris Bentley writes about the environment for WBEZ. Follow him</em><a href="http://twitter.com/cementley"><em> @cementley</em></a></p></p> Tue, 02 Jul 2013 16:19:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago%E2%80%99s-energy-deal-%E2%80%98f%E2%80%99-fracking-107932 Reduced nuclear output at some Illinois plants http://www.wbez.org/news/reduced-nuclear-output-some-illinois-plants-107789 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Nuclear.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Exelon, one of the largest utility providers in the country, will be reducing the amount of energy it provides from some of its Illinois nuclear power plants. That concerns David Kolata, executive director of The Citizen Utility Board. He worries the company is reducing supply, in order to increase the price of electricity. He says that kind of market manipulation, &ldquo;opens up a whole hornet nest of issues.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;What we don&rsquo;t want to happen from a consumers&rsquo; point of view is the worst of all possible worlds, where you get markets when they lead to higher prices, and no markets when they lead to lower prices,&rdquo; said Kolata.</p><p>Exelon says sometimes electricity prices drop so low, it actually cost the company money to produce energy. Those are the times it would take energy off-line. Exelon says they are working with <a href="http://www.pjm.com/about-pjm.aspx" target="_blank">PJM</a>, the company that oversees energy markets, to get advanced notice of when it looks like the price of energy will drop. The company says that is well within guidelines against market manipulation.</p><p>The reason for the very low energy prices is also under debate. Exelon blames wind subsidies, which they say makes it impossible for other forms of energy to compete.</p><p>Kolata says that claim is overblown. He says the low price of natural gas, a result of fracking, might have more to do with the price drop. He also says that the demand for electricity has dropped, which he attributes both to the recession and more energy efficient products.</p><p>Nuclear energy currently&nbsp; makes up about half of the energy used in Illinois. Kolata says as we move towards more renewable energy resources and smart grid technology, that the market will reward forms of energy that can quickly respond to demand. Nuclear, which generally runs 24/7 and needs notice to ramp up and down, could struggle. Exelon says as long as patterns are predictable, they will remain competitive.</p><p><em>Shannon Heffernan is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her at <a href="http://twitter.com/shannon_h" target="_blank">@shannon_h</a></em></p></p> Thu, 20 Jun 2013 15:50:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/reduced-nuclear-output-some-illinois-plants-107789 Does Illinois have a nuclear future? http://www.wbez.org/news/does-illinois-have-nuclear-future-106113 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F83427532&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>President Barack Obama was in town Friday visiting Argonne National Laboratory in the Western suburbs. The president talked about his &ldquo;all of the above&rdquo; energy policy, which includes alternative fuels and better batteries, but one area didn&#39;t get quite as much air time from the president: nuclear power.&nbsp;</p><p>Illinois continues to be the largest producer of nuclear power in the country.</p><p>And scientists at Argonne, and nearby Fermilab, want to keep it that way &ndash; by making nuclear part of our sustainable energy future.</p><p>But the future of nuclear here and across the country is shaky. After a long hiatus, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is licensing <a href="http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors/col/new-reactor-map.html" target="_blank">new reactors</a> again, but most of those are in the Southeast, and none are in Illinois.</p><p><strong>Reduce, reuse, recycle...</strong></p><p>The first rule of Argonne National Laboratories: Don&rsquo;t touch anything. When nuclear engineer Roger Blomquist took me on a tour, he was sure to show me the Geiger counter the employees use to check their hands and feet on the way in and out of the lab where Argonne builds specialized parts for research reactors.&nbsp;</p><p>I learned the second rule of Argonne pretty fast, too: Don&rsquo;t say <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-10-04/illinois-swims-in-atomic-waste-with-dump-unbuilt-bgov-barometer.html" target="_blank">nuclear waste</a>.</p><p>&ldquo;The idea that it is waste is somebody&rsquo;s interpretation,&rdquo; Blomquist said. At Argonne,&nbsp;the radioactive stuff most of us know as nuclear waste is called spent nuclear fuel.</p><p>Part of the reason for the linguistic shift, says Blomquist, is that we could be recycling the materials in nuclear waste.</p><p>&ldquo;With enough recycling you can use 100 percent of the energy that&rsquo;s in the uranium ore you dig out of the ground,&rdquo; he said. Today&rsquo;s technology uses up just one percent of the power we could be getting out of uranium through nuclear fission. The rest comes back out of the reactors, mixed with a slush of more volatile, radioactive elements.</p><p>But recycling nuclear fuel is well within reach. Blomquist is working on the development of <a href="http://www.ne.anl.gov/research/ardt/afr/index.html" target="_blank">fast reactors</a>, a type of nuclear reactor that can run on reprocessed fuel and that he says would be smaller, more contained and safer than the reactors we currently use.&nbsp;</p><p>Just down the road at Fermilab, Argonne&rsquo;s sister laboratory, researcher and associate lab director Stuart Henderson agreed that the technology in use these days is way behind the times.</p><p>&ldquo;A lot of what we do with spent nuclear fuel is sort of what Homer Simpson would do,&rdquo; Henderson said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not very sophisticated.&rdquo;</p><p>Reprocessing or <a href="http://www.ne.anl.gov/pdfs/12_Pyroprocessing_bro_5_12_v14[6].pdf" target="_blank">pyroprocessing</a> nuclear waste would allow us to take the pellets of radioactive fuel out of reactors, separate out the elements with the longest half-lives, and reuse them as fuel for reactors. The only thing left over would be the most radioactive parts of the waste, which decay in just a few hundred years.</p><p>Right now spent fuel has to be stored in pools or casks for hundreds of thousands of years.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS7145_DSC_1405-scr.JPG" style="height: 208px; width: 310px; float: right;" title="(WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /></p><p>Henderson&rsquo;s working on another type of nuclear reactor that would deal with both waste and safety issues, a reactor powered by a particle accelerator.</p><p>Right now, what happens in a nuclear reactor is a <a href="http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Nuclear_chain_reaction.html" target="_blank">controlled chain reaction</a>: in short, particles crash into one another and cause other particles to crash into one another, generating an enormous amount of heat.</p><p>But once it starts, nuclear fission in a reactor can be hard to slow down.</p><p>In the new model, called a sub-critical reactor, there would be no chain reaction. A particle accelerator would shoot particles into the reactor to keep the reaction going.</p><p>So if you want to stop it, you just hit a switch and turn off the accelerator.</p><p>&ldquo;That means that the reactor is never capable of having a Chernobyl-type explosion,&rdquo; Henderson said. He&rsquo;s in touch with Belgian scientists who are building one of these reactors, called a sub-critical reactor; his job is to help build the high-powered accelerator that&rsquo;s capable of doing the job.</p><p><strong>If you build it</strong></p><p>So, what&rsquo;s the hangup? Where are these reactors of the future?</p><p>Both Blomquist and Henderson say having the technology is simply not enough to usher in a nuclear renaissance. We&rsquo;d need to start building these reactors of the future now if we wanted to be getting power from them in less than 15 years, and in the U.S., that&rsquo;s just not happening.</p><p>They both say the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is a part of that equation &ndash; it&rsquo;s expensive and complex to license a reactor design, so much so that companies don&rsquo;t see an incentive to get involved with the grandiose designs of the future, no matter how much safer they might be. Here in Illinois, Exelon is looking to make its current reactors more efficient, but there are <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2012/03/29/exelons-nuclear-guy-no-new-nukes/?feed=rss_home" target="_blank">no plans for new reactors</a> in the state.</p><p>&ldquo;Nobody&rsquo;s gonna build any new ones, anytime soon,&rdquo; said Mark Cooper, a researcher at the University of Vermont who studies the <a href="http://www.vermontlaw.edu/Documents/NuclearSafetyandNuclearEconomics(0).pdf" target="_blank">safety and economics of nuclear power</a>.</p><p>Cooper says other options available like solar, wind, natural gas and coal remain far more economically viable than nuclear, and he suggests we should be investing more in other high tech energy innovations.</p><p>Plus, he says even the most advanced nuclear reactors still come with risks &ndash; and someone has to pay for insurance on those, too.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;As you operate them, you learn that you haven&rsquo;t done enough,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Mother nature throws you a curve, human beings don&rsquo;t behave properly, equipment breaks down.&rdquo;</p><p>Just two years after the nuclear disaster at Fukushima in Japan, those possibilities loom large, especially for people with nuclear power in their own backyards.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS7148_DSC_1438-scr.JPG" style="height: 228px; width: 340px; float: left;" title="Ronda Bally puts on music at the Stumble Inn in Godley, down the road from the Braidwood plant. (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /><strong>Living with nuclear power</strong></p><p>Braidwood, Ill. is only 50 miles from the high tech labs, but in a lot of ways, it&rsquo;s a different world. The fear of nuclear power is real here.</p><p>Exelon operates a nuclear plant at the edge of the small town, and in the 1990s the water was contaminated with radioactive tritium from the Braidwood plant. <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2006-01-26/news/0601260133_1_exelon-nuclear-exelon-corp-nuclear-plant" target="_blank">According to the Chicago Tribune</a>, Exelon didn&rsquo;t admit the mistake until years later.</p><p>The people in Braidwood have developed a sort of gallows humor about living near a reactor.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re gonna be the first one to go if you live by one,&rdquo; said resident Mike Franklin put it. In other words, you won&rsquo;t live to suffer through the devastating effects of radiation &ndash; and that&rsquo;s a good thing. Franklin, like a lot of people I talked to, grew up in Braidwood, and said he generally doesn&rsquo;t think much about the plant.</p><p>In a grocery store parking lot at Braidwood&rsquo;s main intersection, just up the road from the reactor, I caught an older man named Charles Crick unloading his grocery cart. He worked at the Braidwood plant.</p><p>&ldquo;I started in a nuke in 1971, and I worked in &lsquo;em until I retired,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Do I glow in the dark? No.&rdquo;</p><p>The Stumble Inn is a bar just a mile down the road the other way, in the 600-person town of Godley. The morning crowd at the Stumble Inn was small but enthusiastic - and none of them like living near the plant.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m not for nuclear power,&rdquo; said Arthur Wallace, who goes by Slick here. Slick&rsquo;s son-in-law worked at the Braidwood reactor, and died of leukemia at age 44; some research suggests <a href="http://dels.nas.edu/resources/static-assets/nrsb/miscellaneous/Sauer_morning_present.pdf" target="_blank">links between leukemia and radiation</a>. His daughter worked in security at the plant.</p><p>&ldquo;They sent her home every once in awhile with her badge gettin&rsquo; too much rads. Too much radiation,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;She quit after 11 years.&rdquo;</p><p>The bartender, Ronda Bally, was a school bus driver for a long time, and recalled getting trainings from Exelon on how to pick up children and the elderly during a nuclear emergency.</p><p>&ldquo;My life is half over,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;My kids and my grandkids still have a lot of years left ahead of them, and if something as basic as a water supply could cause them serious health issues or even possible death, I have a problem with that.&rdquo;</p><p>A lot of people here say they&rsquo;d support safer nuclear power in a heartbeat. But Bally, like Slick, isn&rsquo;t sure she wants a nuclear future at all.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m kinda more interested in the whole wind farm thing that they&rsquo;re doing now&rdquo;, she said. &ldquo;Nuclear anything is very scary.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>The nuclear future</strong></p><p>&ldquo;Nuclear power is the worst investment in the current environment,&rdquo; said Mark Cooper. &ldquo;You have gone through a series of these pursuits of a technological holy grail. And they have failed.&rdquo;</p><p>His point: scientists have known about safer nuclear for decades &ndash; and companies just aren&rsquo;t willing to spend the money to make it happen.</p><p>But Roger Blomquist at Argonne thinks it&rsquo;s only a matter of time before climate change eclipses the barriers to nuclear innovation.</p><p>&ldquo;Then getting rid of burning fossil fuels will become a national emergency,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;And when that happens, that&rsquo;s when this technology will be blindingly obvious to most people.&rdquo;</p><p>At that point, he says, maybe living in the nuclear future won&rsquo;t seem so bad.</p><p>Follow <a href="http://twitter.com/lewispants" target="_blank">Lewis Wallace on Twitter.</a></p></p> Thu, 14 Mar 2013 23:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/does-illinois-have-nuclear-future-106113 Energy suppliers challenge the lawfulness of a 'clean coal' subsidy http://www.wbez.org/news/energy-suppliers-challenge-lawfulness-clean-coal-subsidy-105828 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F81254444&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/938pre_02d8b79bfc7983a.jpg" style="float: left;" title="(WBEZ) A coal-fired power plant in Illinois" />A group of energy companies is challenging a likely increase in the price of electricity. They say energy from FutureGen, a proposed coal plant project in central Illinois, would cost more for consumers.</p><p>FutureGen is developing an ambitious coal plant and storage facility in Morgan County that would remove almost all of the carbon dioxide from emissions and transport it to a storage facility that would push the gas deep underground. The project&rsquo;s proponents include Gov. Pat Quinn and Illinois U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.</p><p>Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that has been linked to climate change.</p><p>In December, the Illinois Commerce Commission approved a plan that would require energy suppliers to buy part of their power from FutureGen over a 20-year period. The estimated price increase to consumers would be less than 1.5 percent, below the 2 percent cap state law places on new costs for clean energy projects.</p><p>But a group of private suppliers is fighting the ICC decision through the Illinois Appellate Court. Commonwealth Edison also has filed a separate challenge to the order.</p><div style="margin:0;">&ldquo;Why should consumers be subsidizing power that is above today&rsquo;s market price for electricity?&rdquo; said Kevin Wright, president of the Illinois Competitive Energy Association. He represents a consortium of companies who provide electricity. He said requiring his clients to participate in what he called a &quot;subsidy&quot; for so-called clean coal is unlawful and works to undermine a competitive electricity market. He also argued Illinois does not need any new power sources.</div><p>Advocates say FutureGen will turn Meredosia power plant into a cutting-edge clean coal facility. But the project has run into many roadblocks since its inception in 2006, including <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/scitech/science/illinois-lurch-futuregen" target="_blank">a struggle to find a location</a> in 2008, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/news/politics/report-math-error-killed-futuregen" target="_blank">political drama in 2009</a> over misestimating the cost of the plant, and a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/news/futuregen-hits-another-snag" target="_blank">loss of key funders</a> that same year.&nbsp;</p><p>In 2011, FutureGen was declared to be underway again, this time as FutureGen 2.0, and a $1 billion grant from the federal government gave the project new viability. A 2011 fact sheet from FutureGen puts the project cost at $1.3 billion, and says the plant will create 2,000 jobs.</p><p>On Wednesday Sen. Durbin released a statement putting ComEd&rsquo;s parent company Exelon on the hot seat for withdrawing from the FutureGen Alliance and then mounting a court challenge to the funding plan. Last month Exelon announced it would pull out of the group of companies lending support to the plan, although <a href="http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20130228/NEWS11/130229710/durbin-blasts-exelon-for-futuregen-betrayal" target="_blank">Crain&#39;s reported</a> Exelon said it was never officially a member of the Alliance.</p><p>&ldquo;Exelon sent its smiling representatives to press conferences lauding the value of FutureGen,&rdquo; said Durbin. &ldquo;Then last month, Exelon abruptly resigned from the FutureGen Alliance without explanation and today we learned Exelon has filed an appeal challenging the ICC ruling which is critical part of our FutureGen strategy. This heavy-handed corporate betrayal has few parallels in Illinois history.&rdquo;</p><p>Representatives of the FutureGen Alliance were not available to comment Wednesday, but a spokesperson said in an email that &ldquo;appeals are a normal part of the process and will be resolve (sic) in due time. In parallel, FutureGen 2.0&rsquo;s development activities will continue without disruption.&rdquo;</p><p>A spokesperson for the ICC declined to comment until she&rsquo;s seen the court filing, but said the commission stands by its December order.</p><p>Follow <a href="https://twitter.com/LewisPants" target="_blank">Lewis Wallace on Twitter.</a></p></p> Thu, 28 Feb 2013 15:39:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/energy-suppliers-challenge-lawfulness-clean-coal-subsidy-105828 Do conservatives have the answer to climate change? http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/do-conservatives-have-answer-climate-change-105206 <p><p><a href="http://isen.northwestern.edu/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/bob-inglis-at-Northwestern-by-Jeff-Henderson.jpg" title="Former Congressman Bob Inglis addresses students at Northwestern University. (ISEN/Jeff Henderson)" /></a></p><div class="image-insert-image "><p>To hear former Republican&nbsp;Congressman Bob Inglis tell it, the Right Wing aversion to climate change policy may as well be a medical condition.</p><p>&ldquo;When you mention &lsquo;carbon,&rsquo; conservatives break out in hives,&rdquo; he jokes, &ldquo;and when you say &lsquo;tax,&rsquo; they go into anaphylactic shock.&rdquo;</p><p>He says this not mockingly, but by way of explanation. Despite losing his seat in South Carolina&rsquo;s deeply conservative 4<sup>th</sup> Congressional District in 2010, Inglis has continued <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2012/09/26/161824667/new-groups-argue-a-conservative-take-on-climate-change">his crusade to rally conservatives</a> around &ldquo;free-market&rdquo; solutions to climate change. His <a href="http://energyandenterprise.com/">Energy and Enterprise Initiative</a> at George Mason University promoted the message during a presidential campaign in which even the Democratic Party candidate tiptoed around the issue.</p><p>&ldquo;Conservatives have been running from this issue and failing the country,&rdquo; he said Tuesday at Northwestern University&#39;s Kellogg School of Management. &ldquo;But Republicans and conservatives have the answer to this.&rdquo;</p><p>His solution, first crystallized as the <a href="http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/111/hr2380">Raise Wages, Cut Carbon Act of 2009</a>, is to wipe away all federal energy subsidies and hold energy companies accountable for all the hidden costs of their product. That means fossil fuel companies would pay for their carbon emissions, and coal plants would pay for the detrimental health effects of their pollution. Imported goods would pay a carbon tax equivalent to their American counterparts, unless the importing country could prove its carbon footprint was low.</p><p>What makes that politically palatable under Inglis&#39; plan is that the new revenue it generated by essentially taxing carbon would not go to pad deficits in other governmental programs. Instead the plan would cut taxes elsewhere &mdash; social security contributions, income taxes, or corporate tax rates, for example &mdash; in a revenue-neutral swap called <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/06/business/pigovian-taxes-may-offer-economic-hope.html?partner=rss&amp;emc=rss&amp;_r=2&amp;">a Pigouvian tax</a>.</p><p>That&rsquo;s what Inglis calls &ldquo;a muscular free enterprise solution,&rdquo; as opposed to the &ldquo;fickle tax incentives&rdquo; that typically pass for market-based policies. His idea has the support of former Reagan economic advisor Art Laffer.</p><p>It&rsquo;s not clear what effect his plan would have on the renewable energy industries. The markets for solar and wind power have exploded in recent years, fueled in part by the production and investment tax credits which have subsidized them since the early 1990s. The fight to renew these lifelines flares up periodically, <a href="http://cleantechnica.com/2013/01/02/wind-production-tax-credit-saved-for-one-year/">eliciting sighs of relief</a> when they are extended time and again. The impact of axing these subsidies, as Inglis&#39; plan calls for, might be offset by the comparative advantage clean technologies would enjoy over polluting fossil fuels. It depends on how the carbon price would be calculated. Electricity from renewable sources is cheaper than it has ever been, with wind nearly as cheap as natural gas in some markets.</p><p>Despite some high-profile endorsements, no one in Congress has picked up Inglis&#39; bill. Proponents of a tax on carbon emissions saw a window for action <a href="http://climatedesk.org/2013/01/climate-change-moves-to-forefront-in-obamas-second-inaugural-address/">after President Barack Obama&#39;s second inaugural address</a>, but the White House <a href="http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/jan/23/white-house-rules-out-carbon-tax/">ruled out</a> that option. <a href="http://conservativesforacarbontax.com/">Murmurs of a shift</a> on the issue within the Republican party may give his plan some hope, but Inglis&#39; political career is a testament to the partisan nature of the issue.</p><p>After a six-year stint in Congress during the 1990s, Inglis went to the private sector before launching a failed bid for Senate. He returned to Congress in 2005 with a focus on energy, seeing economic opportunities for his district, which counts Michelin, Boeing and General Electric among its major employers.</p><p>Voters in Inglis&#39; conservative Greenville-Spartanburg area stuck with him through 2006 and even 2008 &mdash; South Carolina&rsquo;s primaries occurred before the financial collapse &mdash; but in 2010 he was trounced by Trey Gowdy, who accused him of betraying his conservative roots.</p><p>Inglis had broken with conservative orthodoxy in a few instances &mdash;&nbsp;he voted for the bailout and against the troop surge in Iraq &mdash; but urging action on climate change was &ldquo;the real heresy,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I crossed the tribal boundary, and that treachery was unforgivable.&rdquo;</p><p>Tea Party voters tossed him out of office, despite his near-perfect ratings from conservative voting groups like the American Conservative Union, the Christian Coalition of America, and the National Rifle Association.</p><p>Inglis contends, however, that tackling climate change is ultimately about preserving opportunities for future generations &mdash; a basic conservative tenet.</p><p>&ldquo;Orthodoxies seem like they never change, but they really do,&rdquo; he says. &quot;They&rsquo;re fluid.&rdquo;</p></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 30 Jan 2013 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/do-conservatives-have-answer-climate-change-105206