Illinois on Monday effected legislation that creates a framework for developing coal gasification projects with carbon dioxide capture and storage, and which requires emissions from these electric generation facilities to be as clean as those from natural gas generators.

To qualify as a clean coal facility under SB 1987, or the Clean Coal Portfolio Standard Act (PDF), a plant must capture at least 50% of the total CO2 emissions. It must also incorporate equipment that limits regulated pollutants (such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxides, particulates, and mercury) from combustion of the synthetically produced feedstock to levels no higher than those for combined-cycle, natural gas–fired plants.

This legislative approach is very similar to California’s SB 1368, passed in January 2007, which limited procurement of electricity from out-of-state generating sources that produce emissions greater than those produced by a combined-cycle plant burning natural gas, without paying a surcharge.

Additionally, the law requires electric utilities and other electric retail suppliers in Illinois to purchase up to 5% of their electricity from clean coal facilities. SB 1987 entitles one initial clean coal facility with a final air permit to 30-year purchase agreements for the sale of its output.

This will likely be Tenaska’s proposed $2.5 billion Taylorville Energy Center (TEC), which has a final air permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the Nebraska-based company said in a press release. That plant proposed for central Illinois will use hybrid integrated gasification combined-cycle technology to generate as much as 525 MW. Completion is slated for 2014.

Home to the nation’s second-largest coal reserves, Illinois is the first coal-producing state in the nation to set out an environmentally responsible definition of clean coal, according to Tenaska Vice President Bart Ford. “This legislation is a powerful step forward in the development of clean coal electricity generation in the U.S.,” Ford said.

John Thompson, director of the Coal Transition Project for the national Clean Air Task Force, added, “The Illinois legislation requires emissions from coal-fueled facilities to be at least as low as clean burning natural gas power plants. This very tough standard should become the national model.”

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan led the effort, along with Tenaska, to develop the legislation. Proponents have said that it would be good for the economy, create thousands of new jobs, and provide significant protections to electric customers.

These protections include rate reviews by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Illinois Commerce Commission, as well as the need for final approval by the Illinois General Assembly after preparation of a detailed facility cost report. The legislation also contains a benchmark of 2.015% as the maximum potential rate impact on electric utility customers, which could only occur after the plant begins operations.

Sources: Tenaska, Clean Coal Illinois, Illinois General Assembly