Coal Is Under The Microscope In The Prairie State

The current population of the state of the “Prairie State,” Illinois is estimated to be 12.73 million people. In February 2019, state utilities used nuclear (53.0%), coal (31.5%), renewables (8.7%) and natural gas (6.9%) to generate electricity. Wind is the primary source of renewable energy to generate electricity in Illinois.

Illinois legislators have been systematically passing legislation to encourage state utilities to move from fossil fuel to renewable energy. In August 2007, state legislators enacted the Illinois Power Agency Act which requires large investor-owned utilities to source 25% of electricity sales from renewable energy by 2025. In June 2014, Illinois legislators released $30 million in the Renewable Energy Resources Fund to the Illinois Power Agency for the purchase of photovoltaic (PV) power. Illinois has recently passed legislation to set stricter requirements for coal ash cleanup and to mandate public comment periods prior to closing coal ash sites.

Illinois has more coal ash ponds, which can leach contaminants into the groundwater, than any other state. Coal ash can contain arsenic, mercury and lead, which have been linked to cancer, heart disease and brain damage in children. Illinois is enacting similar coal ash waste regulations to the states of Virginia and North Carolina.

Utilities have been steadily closing coal-fueled power plants over the past decade due to economics. The cost to mine and ship coal by rail has been rapidly increasing. Electricity from coal-fueled power plants is more than double the cost of electricity from wind, solar or hydropower. The risk of coal ash contaminating our nation’s ground water should cause all utilities to replace coal-fueled power plants with clean, green energy.

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