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Illinois Country Living

Cleaner Generation on Horizon
Co-ops emerge as leaders in addressing climate change and energy with innovative technology

By Megan McKoy

Electric co-ops are working on new clean energy sources and several technologies for carbon capture and storage (CCS) both here in Illinois and across the country. Co-ops have also been innovative leaders in renewable energy projects and energy efficiency technology and education.

Capturing carbon from coal and natural gas fired generating plants is possible, but it will take time and large investments to make the goal achievable. That’s why co-op leaders and members are asking for climate change legislation that is fair, affordable and achievable.

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), a non-profit, utility-sponsored consortium whose members include electric co-ops, offers a seven-part strategy that, if implemented, will allow the electric utility industry to eventually decrease carbon dioxide emissions while continuing to meet demand for affordable, reliable electricity. The strategy recommends investing in renewable energy, improving the operating efficiency of coal-fired power plants, developing the technology for large scale CCS, boosting energy efficiency, expanding nuclear power capacity, adding distributed generation resources, and putting plug-in hybrid electric vehicles on the road.

Capturing Carbon

Researchers are testing CCS to remove carbon dioxide gas released during power generation, compress it into a liquid, and then pump it deep underground into spent oil and natural gas wells, saline reservoirs, or inaccessible coal seams for permanent storage.

Basin Electric Power Cooperative, a Bismarck, N.D.-based generation and transmission co-op (G&T) supplying wholesale power to 125 distribution co-ops in nine states, is conducting a carbon capture demonstration project on a portion of its Antelope Valley Station power plant near Beulah, N.D. The move marks the first attempt by a U.S. utility to retrofit a coal-fired power plant with CCS technology.

Also, a subsidiary of the North Dakota G&T operates the only commercial-scale coal gasification plant in the United States, where more than 16 million tons of carbon dioxide from the production of synfuels have been safely captured, piped to an oil field in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, and injected to enhance oil recovery.

“We believe we can protect the climate and maintain a strong economy,” remarks Basin Electric Power Cooperative CEO & General Manager Ron Harper. “But it requires a balanced approach in which consumers continue to conserve, the industry continues to invest in and apply new technologies, and the government supports more rapid advancements while avoiding crippling and economically devastating timelines.”

In Illinois, Decatur based Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM), in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy, is also conducting a CCS project. And the FutureGen project near Mattoon, Ill., is back on track to develop a commercial scale, fully integrated carbon capture and sequestration project.

Cleaning Coal

Electric co-ops are improving traditional power generation in other ways. Through Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC), coal gets converted into a clean-burning gas, stripped of other elements. During the IGCC process, both heat from the gasification procedure and hot exhaust from the gas-fired turbine produce steam that is used to generate additional power. Because of these efficiencies, IGCC plants emit about 20 percent less carbon dioxide than traditional coal-fired power plants when producing the same amount of electricity.

One of the nation’s first IGCC demonstration facilities, the 292-MW Wabash River Coal Gasification Repowering Project in West Terre Haute, Ind., is partially owned and managed by Wabash Valley Power Association, the wholesale power supplier for 28 electric cooperatives in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan,
Missouri and Ohio.

Rick Coons, Wabash Valley Power Association CEO and President, says, “IGCC technology makes great sense as we plan for a cleaner energy future. We have the flexibility to use coal or petroleum byproducts as our fuel source, and the resulting syngas is far cleaner than traditional fossil fuels.”

Renewable Energy

When it comes to generating renewable electricity, electric cooperatives lead the industry. Co-ops receive 11 percent of their power supply from renewables compared to 9 percent for electric utilities as a whole.

Hydropower generates 87.4 percent of renewable co-op energy while wind provides a healthy 10.8 percent. Other resources produce about 2

Biomass power plants use a wide range of biological materials to create electricity. Oglethorpe Power Corporation, a G&T based in Georgia, and East Kentucky Power Cooperative, a G&T in the Bluegrass State, are experimenting with harnessing the power-production potential of trees, pecan hulls, peanut shells, residue from sawmills, and switchgrass.

Jo-Carroll Energy, Elizabeth, Ill., is also working on an 80 MW biomass plant. “The biomass plant will be an important part of our energy supply portfolio,” says Jo-Carroll Energy President and CEO Michael Hastings. “We hope that it will serve as a base for relatively stable energy prices for the next 20 years.”

According to U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), 11 percent of all renewable energy last year came from biomass. Within 22 years that figure will grow to 32 percent, second only to hydropower.

Wind energy production is also a growing resource and Illinois co-ops have also been very progressive in this area. Illinois Rural Electric Cooperative, Winchester, Ill., was the first co-op in the nation to own a utility grade wind turbine. Rural Electric Convenience Cooperative, Auburn, Ill., soon followed with a similar sized wind turbine from a different manufacturer. And Adams Electric Cooperative, Camp Point, Ill., has a similar wind turbine under construction.

Energy Efficiency

According to the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, 92 percent of co-ops sponsor energy efficiency programs. Electric co-ops in Illinois have a long history of providing energy audits, energy efficiency education and promotion of energy efficient technology. Just one example is the GeoAlliance grant program. Illinois electric cooperatives and the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation have provided $1 million in grants to schools, churches and community facilities for geothermal heat pump installations helping to reduce heating and cooling costs as much as 70 percent.

Many electric co-ops employ some type of load management program that helps reduce peak demand for energy during the hottest part of the summer. In many cases, consumers volunteer to have special “load control” equipment attached to electric water heaters, air conditioners, and other appliances, allowing the co-op to switch them off during demand peaks. Controlling peak demand will be a major component of next generation smart grid, and many of the Illinois electric co-ops have begun preparing by installing a smart metering systems called automated metering infrastructure (AMI).

How You Can Help

Co-ops are asking lawmakers to provide funding necessary to speed development of these technologies and you can help. Through the Our Energy, Our Future™ grassroots campaign at, you can ask Congress to work with co-ops to bring about an affordable energy future.


© 2016 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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