Lawmakers Work to Make PRB Coal Less Attractive in Illinois

A group of Illinois state lawmakers are proposing legislation to discourage the import of Powder River Basin (PRB) coal into the state, making locally mined coal more appealing to power plants.

The coal competitiveness plan being proposed would modify regulations that allow electric utilities to pass through the cost of transportation to customers. According to Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), the transportation cost for coal from western states averages $26 per ton, whereas it costs only $6 per ton to transport coal mined within Illinois.

“Illinois electric ratepayers pay a premium in their bills to import coal from Western states when we have abundant reserves right here. This policy needs to end immediately,” Manar said.

Manar offered the Coffeen Power Station as an example. The plant is sited about six miles from the Deer Run coal mine near Hillsboro, but it currently receives its fuel from Wyoming, which is more than 900 miles away.

“There is something absurd about paying more for out-of-state coal when there are Illinois coal miners out of work and an entire region suffers from high unemployment,” Manar said.

Fellow downstate lawmakers Sen. Sam McCann (R-Carlinville), and Reps. Avery Bourne (R-Litchfield), John Bradley (D-Marion), Jerry F. Costello II (D-Red Bud), and C.D. Davidsmeyer (R-Jacksonville) joined Manar at a press conference last week announcing the plan. The group is pushing to have the legislation integrated into Illinois’ energy policy this session.

Illinois is said to have the second-largest coal reserves in the nation, and even though production has increased in the last few years to over 58 million tons in 2014, it remains far below its peak of nearly 90 million tons per year in the 1910s. Currently, Montgomery County—home of the Coffeen plant and Hillsboro mine—has an unemployment rate of 7.3%. The lawmakers hope that their plan will help boost the use of Illinois coal, improving local and regional economies.

“To put people to work and grow our economy, we must take advantage of the coal resources that lie beneath our feet,” Bradley said. “Coal mining and the economic spin off was a leading force in Illinois’ economic development decades ago and certainly should be again as we seek to employ more Illinoisans in the years to come.”

Proud to move forward on plan to use more Illinois coal, save millions for consumers and reduce co2

— Sam McCann (@mccann_sam) May 12, 2015

Illinois coal generally contains more sulfur than PRB coal, but it also has a higher energy density. The lawmakers say it burns 22% hotter, making power plants more efficient and reducing CO2 emissions. Current regulatory rules in the state, however, make it easier for power plants to shift the cost of buying PRB coal to customers rather than upgrading to improved technology to burn local coal.

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)