Leonard F. Hopkins, Fuel & Compliance Manager for Southern Illinois Power Cooperativ
Affordable power threatened
Co-op members show their support for coal
As pointed out in last month’s issue of this magazine, there is an ongoing attack in this country on coal-fired electricity generation. Many of you have responded to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s (NRECA) “Our Energy, Our Future” website to express your support for environmentally responsible use of coal to fuel continued reliable and affordable electricity for our co-op members. Nearly 11,000 members from Illinois and across the country sent comments to the EPA. Such grassroots action is what is needed in order to assure our political leaders hear the true opinions of their constituents.
At Southern Illinois Power Cooperative (SIPC) our mission statement is to provide safe, reliable and reasonably-priced power in an environmentally sound manner. Over the years, SIPC has installed state-of-the-art pollution control equipment that allowed the co-op to continue to utilize southern Illinois coal and support the local economy.
Over the last 15 years, emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) have both been reduced by over 80 percent. This shows SIPC’s commitment to our members and to the environment.
However, regulations proposed by the EPA seem to be coming at an ever-increasing rate! Additional reductions in SO2 and NOx are being pushed. EPA is considering placing limits on carbon dioxide for the first time, and they have proposed to make coal ash a hazardous waste. Even though no proven technology exists that will allow coal-fired plants to economically comply with these new standards, the current EPA is pushing forward with such rules.
Many believe these new emission reduction proposals are unnecessary, unachievable and obviously have very real costs. Requiring emission decreases that are beyond the scope of current pollution control technology will drive the price of electricity up.
Coal-fired plants that can’t comply with arbitrary rules will be forced to shut down and likely replaced with natural gas-fired generation. Although natural gas prices are relatively low right now, it is still over twice the price of coal on a cost per Btu basis, and that would force power companies to raise their rates.
Similarly, should the EPA require coal ash to be handled as hazardous waste, handling costs will increase dramatically, and the advanced recycling industry associated with coal ash will become extinct.
SIPC has been recycling its coal combustion by-products in beneficial ways for more than 20 years. Roof shingle sand, abrasive products, mine reclamation, cement and fertilizer blends are examples of ways our coal combustion residues are recycled into beneficial products.
SIPC is concerned that placing the label of “hazardous” on coal combustion residue will place the same stigma on ALL coal combustion by-products, and effectively end the possibility of recycling such materials. In the litigious society of today, manufacturers and end users will flee from any recycled product that is remotely related to a hazardous waste. Such an action would remove these recycled products from the market place, and the recovery of replacement materials would require increased emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.
SIPC is a small generation and transmission co-op, and defined as a “small business” by the U.S. Small Business Administration, like most our country’s member-owned co-ops. By regulation, co-ops are not allowed to maintain large capital reserves. When the cost for running our business suddenly increases, like it would under this barrage of regulations from EPA, we must go directly to our lenders. There is no cushion to mitigate these increases, and the cost of the new loans would be shared by each co-op member.
The strength of the member-owned co-ops is in the over 900 U.S. electric cooperatives and the 42 million member-owners we serve in 47 states. Together we can assure that our government acts to maintain reliable and affordable electric power for all consumers. Please continue to tell your elected representatives how you feel about the ever-increasing regulatory load.
For more information contact your local electric cooperative or go to www.ourenergy.coop.
Leonard F. Hopkins, P.E., is the Fuel & Compliance Manager for Southern Illinois Power Cooperative, the generation and transmission serving six Illinois electric co-ops.