WBEZ | utilities http://www.wbez.org/tags/utilities Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en 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 Lost landmark: The giant gas tank http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-10/lost-landmark-giant-gas-tank-103286 <p><p>When I was a kid in the 1950s, a 300-foot-high circular metal cage loomed over the Six Corners shopping center. Technically, the structure was referred to as a gas holder. We simply called it the giant gas tank.</p><p>The tank was used for storing natural gas. At one time there were dozens of them scattered about the city and suburbs. The biggest one was located near Kedzie and Pratt. Built in 1926, it was 362 feet high, 254 feet in diameter, and held over 15 million cubic feet of natural gas.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/10-25--Gas Tank.jpg" title="The Six Corners gas tank (author's collection)" /></div></div></div><p>The giant gas tanks could be found throughout the world. In some countries they were known as gasometers. Here in America, they were most prominent in St. Louis &mdash; one reason the 1930s Cardinals were nicknamed The Gas House Gang.</p><p>My friends and I were always a little bit wary of the giant gas tanks. We&rsquo;d seen the movie <em>White Heat</em>, in which Jimmy Cagney meets his end in a colossal explosion atop an industrial fuel tank. It didn&rsquo;t matter that Cagney had been at an oil refinery, and not on a natural gas tank. It didn&rsquo;t matter that Peoples Gas assured us their tanks were totally safe. Where was Smokey the Bear when you needed him?</p><p>But by this time, the giant gas tanks were on their way out. Storing the gas in underground tanks was easier and cheaper &mdash; safer, too. The last Chicago-area tanks were dismantled during the 1980s.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/10-25--x--Division%20St%20%28City%20of%20Chicago%29.jpg" title="The 'M Squad' gas tank (City of Chicago photo)" /></div><p>Yet the memory remains. Every once in a while, I&rsquo;ll find one in old pictures&mdash;near North and Clybourn, or Oakton and McCormick, or 95th and South Chicago. When I play episodes of the classic <em>M-Squad</em> TV show, there&rsquo;s a gas tank a few blocks up Racine Avenue from the police station.</p><p>And if I really need a nostalgia fix, I can always go to Vienna. Not Vienna, Ill. &mdash; Vienna, Austria. There they&rsquo;ve converted four giant gas tanks into <a href="http://www.gasometer.at/">Gasometer City</a>, complete with apartments, a concert hall and a shopping mall.</p><p>Is it too late to rebuild the Six Corners gas tank? &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 25 Oct 2012 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-10/lost-landmark-giant-gas-tank-103286 Guilty or innocent? The saga of Samuel Insull http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-10-26/guilty-or-innocent-saga-samuel-insull-93392 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-October/2011-10-26/sam insull_schmidt.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We've been hearing much lately about greedy capitalists. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, one Chicago tycoon became a national symbol of greedy capitalists. His name was Samuel Insull.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-24/10-26--11-29-1926.jpg" style="border-width: initial; border-color: initial; margin-left: 15px; margin-right: 15px; margin-top: 15px; margin-bottom: 15px; float: left; width: 270px; height: 355px; " title="Time cover boy: 11-29-1926"></p><p>Insull was born poor in London in 1859. As a young man he caught the eye of Thomas Edison, becoming the great inventor's private secretary. Electricity was the new technology of the 1890s, and Sam got in on the ground floor. It was like being the right-hand man of Steve Jobs a century later.</p><p>Insull helped build America's electrical industry, though his talent was financial, not scientific. After revamping the General Electric Company, he settled in Chicago. He merged, modernized, and expanded. By the 1920s his holdings included Commonwealth Edison, Peoples Gas, the Chicago Rapid Transit Company, and several interurban railroads.</p><p>He knew how to make money, and thousands of small investors bought into his companies. Insull was also a philanthropist. He built the Civic Opera House and footed much of the opera company's bill himself.</p><p>Then, in 1929, the Stock Market crashed. As the country moved into the Depression, Insull's companies suffered tremendous losses. Most of his personal fortune was wiped out, along with the life savings of those thousands of small investors.&nbsp;</p><p>Someone had to take the blame. Insull, the hero of the 1920s, was now the villain of the 1930s.</p><p>Insull was in London in October 1932. Back in Chicago, a county grand jury indicted him for fraud and embezzlement. That was followed by federal charges a few months later. Before he could be extradited, Insull skipped out of England.</p><p>He dodged authorities for over a year. Then, in the spring of 1934, Insull was arrested in Turkey. He'd been on a ship headed for Egypt when the Turkish cabinet decided to let the U.S. have him.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-24/10-26--5-14-1934.jpg" style="margin-left: 15px; margin-right: 15px; margin-top: 15px; margin-bottom: 15px; float: right; width: 270px; height: 355px; " title="Time cover boy: 5-14-1934"></p><p>Insull was brought back to Chicago to face the music. He claimed to have done nothing wrong, to have lost money like everyone else. He said he was being made a scapegoat by demagogue politicians.</p><p>He did have a point. Insull was tried three separate times, in three different courts. He was acquitted all three times.</p><p>After the last trial, Insull left the U.S. for good. He died penniless in a Paris subway station in 1938. But he has been immortalized, in an offbeat way.</p><p>Monopoly, the board game, was introduced when the Insull trials were front page news. The next time you play, take a look at the cartoon Monopoly Man. He's the image of Samuel Insull.</p></p> Wed, 26 Oct 2011 12:15:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-10-26/guilty-or-innocent-saga-samuel-insull-93392 Heat wave leads ComEd to suspend electricity shutoffs http://www.wbez.org/story/heat-wave-leads-comed-suspend-electricity-shutoffs-89494 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-July/2011-07-21/ComEd.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Northern Illinois residents behind on their electricity bills don’t have to worry about Commonwealth Edison disconnecting them. They don’t, that is, until the heat wave lets up.</p><p>If a day’s National Weather Service forecast predicts temperatures of at least 95 degrees, Illinois prohibits a big power company from disconnecting homes that depend on the juice to keep cool.</p><p>ComEd spokeswoman Arlana Johnson late Thursday said her company, given the heat, had not cut off any of its residential customers since last week. “We have been evaluating that on a daily basis,” she added.</p><p>The company’s restraint won praise from Elce Redmond, an organizer of the South Austin Coalition, a neighborhood group on Chicago’s West Side that is pushing for an overhaul of utility shutoff policies. “That’s a good first step,” Redmond said. “But, once the weather breaks, are they going to start massive disconnections?”</p><p>At a press conference Thursday afternoon, the coalition demanded a three-month moratorium on shutoffs and, then, more affordable reconnection and repayment terms.</p><p>ComEd responded that it cut off power only as a last resort. “No business can continue to operate if customers don’t pay for the service,” Johnson said.</p><p>During the year’s first six months, ComEd disconnected 46,493 customers for nonpayment and reconnected 28,252, according to the Illinois Commerce Commission. Those figures were up 4.1&nbsp;percent and 28.5&nbsp;percent, respectively, from the same months of 2010.</p></p> Fri, 22 Jul 2011 10:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/heat-wave-leads-comed-suspend-electricity-shutoffs-89494 Veto deals another setback to Illinois coal industry http://www.wbez.org/story/clean-coal/veto-deals-another-setback-illinois-coal-industry <p><p>With the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/scitech/energy/quinn-vetoes-coal-gas-power-plants">veto of two energy projects</a> yesterday, Governor Pat Quinn dealt another setback to Illinois coal producers. But an industry spokesman says it&rsquo;s more of a loss for the state than for the mine owners.</p><p>Quinn struck down two planned coal gasification plants &ndash; one in Chicago, and one in southern Illinois. The vetoes follow the failure of another project, a gasified coal power plant to be located in central Illinois. That project fell short in the Legislature. All three of the projects would have used coal mined in Illinois.</p><p>Phil Gonet, president of the Illinois Coal Association, said that means Illinois will have to continue importing most of its coal from western states like Wyoming and Colorado.</p><p>&ldquo;Why are we sending our money to another state when we have the nation&rsquo;s largest deposit of bituminous reserves under our border?&rdquo; Gonet said.</p><p>Illinois coal has relatively high sulfur content, a major contributor to acid rain. Environmentalists and consumer groups strongly opposed the new plants, which would have likely increased utility bills and air pollution. But Phil Gonet says new markets on the east coast and abroad are still fueling demand for southern Illinois coal.</p></p> Tue, 15 Mar 2011 20:41:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/clean-coal/veto-deals-another-setback-illinois-coal-industry Lawmakers OK huge Chicago coal-to-gas plant http://www.wbez.org/story/coal/lawmakers-ok-huge-chicago-coal-gas-plant <p><p>Illinois lawmakers approved a plan to build a massive natural gas plant on Chicago&rsquo;s South Side. The project promises to create jobs, but may also increase both pollution and utility bills. The plant would turn Illinois coal and refinery waste into substitute natural gas, which four utilities would face strong pressure to buy. That gas would be pricey, which could drive up people&rsquo;s bills.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s no question that the gas coming out of this plant will be more expensive than the gas you can buy on the open market,&rdquo; said Barry Matchett, co-legislative director at the Environmental Law and Policy Center. &ldquo;It will be more expensive for at least 20 years. We think that&rsquo;s grossly unfair.&rdquo;</p><p>The project&rsquo;s developer, New York-based Leucadia National Corporation, has pledged to put up money to offset the higher costs, though if gas prices stay near their current rates, that fund would be exhausted within several years.</p><p>Supporters say the plant has plenty of environmental and economic benefits, like redeveloping a South Side brownfield and creating 200 jobs. It would also provide a major customer for Illinois&rsquo;s high-sulfur coal, which has few domestic markets left.</p><p>The bill passed by veto-proof margins, and now awaits the governor&rsquo;s signature.</p></p> Thu, 06 Jan 2011 22:30:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/coal/lawmakers-ok-huge-chicago-coal-gas-plant Attorney General and CUB warn consumers about Nicor Gas's "ComfortGuard" service http://www.wbez.org/story/attorney-general/attorney-general-and-cub-warn-consumers-about-nicor-gass-comfortguard-service <p><p>The Citizens Utility Board and the Illinois Attorney General are warning Nicor Gas customers about a service they call &quot;overpriced and rarely used.&quot;<br /><br />Nicor offers the so-called Gas Line ComfortGuard for the inspection and repair of potential gas leaks inside homes.<br /><br />CUB Executive Director David Kolata said more than than 400,000 people are enrolled in the program, which costs $4.95 a month, &quot;but only 2 percent of customers covered by ComfortGuard ever needed their pipes repaired, so the program is guarding against problems that almost never occur.&quot;</p><p>And Kolata said an average repair costs consumers less than what they pay for ComfortGuard annually. He said the the average cost of a repair for a non-ComfortGuard customer in 2009 was $47, compared to ComfortGuard's $59.40 annual price tag.</p><p>The ComfortGuard service covers in-home repairs up to $600 per incident.&nbsp;But Kolata said less than 3 percent of gas-leak repairs made by Nicor for non-ComfortGuard customers were more than $100.</p><p>In a statement, Attorney General Lisa Madigan said, &quot;Nicor's ComfortGuard service does not live up to marketing promises that it will save money for consumers. Consumers looking for comfort should carefully review their gas bills to determine whether they really need to pay an extra $4.95 a month.&quot;</p><p>Nicor is legally obligated to investigate reports of gas leaks and, if necessary, shut off the gas for free.</p><p>CUB and the Attorney General's office are urging the Illinois Commerce Commission to consider Nicor's profits from the service as utility revenue. That could mean Nicor could be required to lower the cost of gas for consumers.</p><p>In a statment, Nicor said it disagrees with CUB's claims. They say the Gas Line ComfortGuard protects the safety of its customers at a great value.<br />&nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 23 Nov 2010 19:14:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/attorney-general/attorney-general-and-cub-warn-consumers-about-nicor-gass-comfortguard-service