Initially, the bill was defeated 30 to 25 on January 6. Senator Deanna Demuzio, chief sponsor of S.B. 2485 at the time, used a parliamentary maneuver to keep the measure alive for a possible second vote. When it was brought back January 12, the final day of the 2010 lame-duck session, the bill was rejected, 33 to 18.
During brief debate on the bill, Senate Majority Leader James Clayborne Jr., who had taken over as chief sponsor, urged his colleagues to vote yes to support “jobs, jobs, jobs.” Tenaska said TEC would create 2,500 construction jobs and thousands of additional indirect jobs during its four-year construction phase while providing a market for about 2 million tons of high-sulfur Illinois coal annually.
But opponents ultimately carried the day. Led by the STOP (Stop Tenaska’s Overpriced Power) Coalition, a business/industry group, they warned higher electricity prices would kill as many as 35,000 jobs. Designed to capture more than 50% of carbon dioxide emissions and remove in excess of 90% of mercury and 99% of sulfur dioxide, the plant was targeted for commercial operation around mid-decade.
Phil Gonet, president of the Illinois Coal Association, said senators “succumbed to pressure” from Chicago-based Exelon, parent company of Commonwealth Edison and PECO Energy and owner of the nation’s largest nuclear generating fleet. Exelon saw TEC as a competitor in Illinois’ competitive electric market, he said, and lobbied aggressively to defeat the bill. Exelon declined to comment on the bill’s demise.
Tenaska, TEC’s managing partner and lead developer, spent four years and more than $40 million developing the project. In late 2010, the company indicated it probably would abandon Illinois if the legislation failed. But while Tenaska Vice President Bart Ford called the vote results “disappointing,” the company left a crack in the door. “We are currently evaluating our next course of action,” he said. “We believe there is a great deal of support in Illinois for the idea of clean coal power.”
John Mead, director of the Coal Research Center at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, agreed. Mead said that while he was not privy to Tenaska’s internal decision-making process and strategy, “I certainly believe we’re going to have new power plants built in Illinois. And the gasification or other advanced coal-based or other solid fuel-based technologies are going to remain very interesting and advantageous options. Gasification remains of interest and viable, and with it, carbon management. But one of the great unknowns is the timetable.”