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October 2007 Issue: FeatureCommentaryCurrents SafetyGardenEnergy SolutionsFinest CookingMore

Currents:

USDA Official Addresses Shimkus Ag CommitteeIllinois Deregulated Electric Rate Debate SettledIllinois Now Smoke Free Illinois Fights for FutureGenBurning Biomass With Coal to Reduce CarbonOctober to See Near to Slightly Below Normal TemperaturesColes-Moultrie Electric Co-op Helping Create JobsThe Hennepin Canal Celebrates 100 YearsBusiness Start-Up Workshops Planned for Fall


USDA Official Addresses Shimkus Ag Committee

State Director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Doug Wilson addressed more than 50 people at a meeting of Congressman John Shimkus' Ag Advisory Committee held at the headquarters of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives in August.

When a show of hands demonstrated that most of the audience got their power from electric cooperatives, Wilson explained how the co-ops could access low-cost financing loans and grants from Rural Development. He said their funds have helped two Illinois electric cooperatives finance wind turbines. Rural Development also has a no-cost program designed specifically for them to help them meet the economic needs of the communities they serve.

Wilson said that the agency is having a record year in providing funds for renewable energy and business development in Illinois. In the last nine months, they've invested more than $55 million to meet rural community and business needs in the state. They expect to announce another $43 million in the near future.


Illinois Deregulated Electric Rate Debate Settled

In late August, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich finally signed legislation to provide rate relief to investor-owned utility (IOU) customers. The legislation provides for $1 billion in credits to IOU consumers across the state. Rate shock hit consumers when Ameren and ComEd began buying power through an auction process after a 10-year rate freeze expired.

The auction process is gone. In its place the legislation creates a new state agency, the Illinois Power Agency (IPA). The IPA will create and oversee a new electricity procurement method to hopefully stabilize electric rates and it'll provide plans for the state's energy future.

The bill also includes a renewable portfolio standard that requires Ameren and ComEd to meet 25 percent of customers' electricity needs from renewable energy sources by 2025. The utilities must also increase investments in energy saving programs and technologies.

"Illinois electric cooperative members remain in control of their electric co-ops," says Duane Noland, President/CEO of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives. "As we've seen throughout the deregulation process, consumer-owned electric co-ops can provide a measure of stability. When members, through their locally elected board of directors, make the decisions the results are better. Consumer-owned utilities, both co-ops and municipal systems, provide a measure of consumer protection that doesn't need to be legislated."

Noland added that co-ops are already aggressively pursuing renewable energy options and have always provided energy saving programs without legislative mandates. "We have several electric co-ops that are very involved in both small and large renewable energy projects. I expect to see more innovative co-op-sponsored renewable energy projects in the future," says Noland.


Illinois Now Smoke Free

Senate Bill 500, the Smoke-Free Illinois Act, was signed into law this past summer. It imposes a statewide ban on smoking in all public places, including bars, restaurants, public buildings and work places starting January 1, 2008. The state law supersedes most local ordinances that may have been considered weak, such as allowing a phased-in smoking ban or exempting establishments that installed approved air filtration systems.

People may still smoke in their homes, cars, outdoors, private nursing home rooms, home offices not open to the public, retail tobacco shops and certain hotel or motel rooms. Smokers that violate the law by smoking at indoor public places can be fined between $100 and $250. Establishments that violate the law can be charged an amount between $100 and $250 for the first violation and a minimum of $250 for a second violation within a year. Subsequent violations within a year of the first violation will cost establishments at least $2,500.


Illinois Fights for FutureGen

There may not have been much bipartisan agreement in the Illinois State Capitol this summer, but one thing everyone agreed on was FutureGen. Illinois is competing for the $1.4 billion, coal-to-energy, state-of-the-art facility with Texas. Governor Blagojevich signed Senate Bill 1704 giving Illinois an even greater chance of landing FutureGen in either Mattoon or Tuscola.

"We've been making the investments that have made Illinois a national leader in clean coal technology," says Gov. Blagojevich. "After more than four years of planning and strong bipartisan support, this is the final piece of the puzzle as we are approaching FutureGen's finish line."

FutureGen will be designed to be the cleanest fossil fuel-fired power plant in the world. The facility will convert coal into hydrogen and electricity, while capturing and storing the carbon dioxide deep underground. This effort will lay the groundwork for developing similar power plants around the country and the world.

Senate Bill 1704 would protect the FutureGen Alliance from facing liability for unanticipated release of carbon dioxide, which is unlikely. Texas, which has the other two remaining sites, has already passed a version of indemnification legislation.


Burning Biomass With Coal to Reduce Carbon

Biomass, organic matter such as forest waste, agriculture waste and municipal waste can be mixed with coal or natural gas to effectively reduce the carbon footprint of utilities. Because organic matter comes from crops and trees that absorb CO2 the CO2 that is released is considered neutral.

The Energy Department and several utilities are working to expand biomass generation. About 20 utilities in North America are using wood chips to replace up to 25 percent of the coal or natural gas used. Co-firing biomass is working in European countries such as Sweden where 19 percent of the energy comes from biomass. Sweden expects to producee 40 percent of its energy from biomass by 2020.

Co-firing biomass is a technology that is available and does not require the substantial investment other options require. There are trade offs however. There needs to be a dependable supply of biomass. Biomass contains half the energy of coal. Mining coal and harvesting biomass are difficult processes, but some experts say the cost it can be cheaper to use biomass. Others point out that it is one way to reduce CO2, sulfur, nitrogen oxide and other waste using existing plants and technology available today.


October to See Near to Slightly Below Normal Temperatures

The latest long-range models indicate that October is likely to see temperatures that are closer to normal and even may average slightly cooler than normal in some spots across Illinois.

Past climate records indicate that when a neutral to weak La Nina phase is in place, the fall months across Illinois tend to be more seasonable as far as temperatures are concerned.

Other climate indices such as the NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation) index suggest the stretches of cooler than normal temperatures are also possible across Illinois during the month of October. The NAO is forecasted to be negative for at least part of the month, which will likely allow an upper level trough pattern to set up across the eastern third of the country. This is expected to allow Canadian air masses to move across Illinois from time to time, which will result in periods of cooler weather.

Overall, mean temperatures are forecasted to average 1 to 3 degrees cooler than normal across the state in October. This may lead to a marginal increase in early season heating demand as well as slightly higher than normal energy costs with respect to heating. Total heating degree-day values are projected to be higher by between 30 to 90.

The Illinois map this month illustrates what the average total number of heating degree days should be across the state for the month of October.

Source: EJS Weather, Newton, Ill., www.ejsweather.com or call 618-783-3040.


Coles-Moultrie Electric Co-op Helping Create Jobs

USDA Rural Development can help rural electric and telephone co-ops create new jobs using no cost funding through the agency's Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant (REDLG) program.

"Utility cooperatives can use these funds to help finance business start-ups and expansions, implement economic development plans and make community improvements to ensure rural areas remain attractive, economically viable places to live and work," said Doug Wilson, Illinois director for USDA Rural Development.

Rural Development can lend money to an eligible electric or telephone cooperative at zero percent interest for 10 years. The cooperative then makes loans to local profit or non-profit businesses and public bodies for projects that will promote economic development and create jobs in rural areas.

Coles-Moultrie Electric Cooperative has a history of supporting economic development in Coles, Moultrie, Piatt, Cumberland and Douglas counties. The co-op submitted an application to Rural Development for a REDLG loan to finance a new business that could have a substantial economic impact in Coles County. In July Rural Development awarded them a 10-year loan for $740,000 at zero percent interest.

Coles-Moultrie Electric will re-lend the funds to Family Farmers Meats, LLC, for its state-of-the-art, energy-efficient meat processing facility that will be built two miles northeast of Mattoon. The company will process organic drug-free hogs, cows, chickens and other species including sheep and goats. Family Farmer Meats will employ 54 people and process meat for wholesalers, retailers and individual customers.


The Hennepin Canal Celebrates 100 Years

It was in November of 1907 that the first boat made its way down the Hennepin Canal from the Illinois River to the Mississippi River. Thousands of people lined the banks of the Hennepin Canal for this event. A hundred years later, the Hennepin Canal is a great state park that offers fishing, hiking, biking, boating, horseback riding, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and other recreational opportunities. The Hennepin Canal is also a major part of the 475-mile-long Grand Illinois Trail and part of the American Discovery Trail that goes from coast to coast. The Friends of the Hennepin Canal are celebrating the wonderment of the 104-mile state park. The celebration is being held Sunday, Oct. 7 at the Hennepin Canal Visitors Center in Sheffield from 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. For more information go to www.friends-hennepin-canal.com. Photo compliments of the Hennepin Canal State Park Visitors Center.


Business Start-Up Workshops Planned for Fall

The Illinois Small Business Development Center at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale is offering vital information to help anyone considering starting their own business.

The fall 2007 workshop schedule includes four sessions of "Starting a Business in Illinois." Each two-hour informational seminar provides the basics of starting a business, including legal structure, startup requirements, finding financing and the basics of business planning. There's a $10 materials fee to cover the cost of the business startup kit, which includes a newly updated business plan workbook, a business startup checklist and a copy of the presentation slides.

All workshops are in room 150 at the Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center at 150 E. Pleasant Hill Road, Carbondale. The fall series schedule includes: Oct. 17, 1-3 p.m., Nov. 20, 9-11 a.m. and Dec. 12, 1-3 p.m.

Immediately following the Oct. 17 workshop, the center, along with the Southern Illinois Entrepreneurship Center, will sponsor "Finding Financing: Selling Your Ideas to Banks and Investors," from 3 to 5 p.m. This free seminar explains the different types of financing and details about securing financing.

Pre-registration is required for each of the workshops. To register, or for more information, call 618-536-2424, sign up online at www.southernillinois.biz, or e-mail ilsbdc@siu.edu.

The center serves existing and prospective businesses by helping with business planning and marketing, management issues, understanding business finances, financial counseling and information about securing financing. SIUC hosts the center and funding is from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the U.S. Small Business Administration.

© 2007 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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