Ameren to Slash Emissions at Illinois Coal-Burning Power Plants

CHICAGO, Illinois, August 4, 2006 (ENS) - Governor Rod Blagojevich Wednesday announced an emissions reduction agreement with Illinois’ second largest utility, Ameren, that the governor said will establish Illinois as a national clean air leader. Ameren has agreed to curb emissions of the three most harmful power plant emissions - mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

Under the agreement, 94 percent of Ameren’s plants will meet the mercury standards proposed by the governor earlier this year. The remaining six percent will meet the standards by 2012.

Blagojevich

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich aims to bring cleaner air to the state by cutting emissions of mercury and other harmful pollutants. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
Last winter, the governor filed rules with the Illinois Pollution Control Board that would cut mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants by 90 percent by 2009. Illinois' mercury rule will achieve more mercury reductions from power plants than any other state.

Under the agreement, Ameren also will reduce its emissions in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide beyond federal requirements.

Ameren has agreed not to trade emissions credits, so that reductions in emissions will be the result of actual pollution reductions in Illinois and not credits purchased from other states.

“Air pollution leads to all kinds of health problems like asthma, bronchitis, cerebral palsy, and so many others. This plan means our air will be cleaner, it means our rivers will be less polluted, and it means our children will be healthier,” said Governor Blagojevich. "Ameren deserves a great deal of credit for working with us to reach this historic agreement which will benefit the quality of lives of so many people in our state.”

The proposal filed with the Illinois Pollution Control Board will reduce mercury emissions from Ameren power plants beginning in 2009. It will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 2012 and sulfur dioxide emissions by 2015, and presents an approach to multi-pollutant emission reduction that the parties say can serve as a model nationally.

Coffeen

Ameren's coal-burning Coffeen power plant in Montgomery County, Illinois began generating power in 1963. (Photo courtesy Ameren)
To help reduce emissions, the utility will install $1.6 billion in technology upgrades at seven power plants in central and southern Illinois. The new scrubbing equipment will enable the company to burn more Illinois coal, which has higher sulfur content than coal from other regions, but produces more energy per pound than coal from the west.

Even while burning high sulfur Illinois coal, Ameren's cuts in sulfur dioxide emissions will exceed the total amount of reductions expected from the federal Clean Air Interstate Rule for all Illinois power plants combined.

“We appreciate Governor Blagojevich's support and that of the Illinois EPA in working with us to come up with an approach that provides reductions of multiple pollutants and offers flexibility, while reaching the goal of significantly reducing air emissions,” said Ameren Chairman, President and CEO Gary Rainwater.

Ameren has previously disclosed that it preliminarily estimated capital expenditures of $1.0 billion to $1.4 billion by 2016 to comply with new federal regulations related to emissions reductions in Illinois.

The proposed agreement with Illinois will add to that total by a projected $600 million, the majority of which is an acceleration of emission-related capital expenditures that would have been spent beyond 2016.

Ameren’s commitment to installing this equipment accelerates the company’s emission reduction compliance program to a level well ahead of that required by federal standards set in 2005.

Hutsonville

Ameren's coal-burning Hutsonville power plant in Crawford County, Illinois began generating power in 1953. (Photo courtesy Ameren)
Through its operating companies, St. Louis-based Ameren Corporation serves 2.4 million electric customers and about one million natural gas customers in a 64,000 square mile area of Missouri and Illinois.

The agreement was hailed as a "major breakthrough by Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “We commend Governor Blagojevich for forging this agreement with Ameren and showing that Illinois’ fleet of older coal plants can achieve significant pollution reductions," he said.

Other environment and public health groups we just as enthusiastic.

“The Illinois mercury rule will do what federal regulators wouldn't - put children’s health first, said Max Muller, environmental advocate at Environment Illinois. "Ameren’s willingness to come to the table with the new multi-pollutant provision means Illinois will still have among the most protective mercury rules in the country, but with additional up front reductions in soot and smog-forming emissions.”

Joel Africk, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago, said, “These emission reductions in Illinois will benefit asthma patients throughout the state and greatly reduce hospitalizations, emergency room visits and even premature deaths.”

In the U.S., an estimated 43 percent of toxic mercury emissions come from power plants. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) estimates that the state’s coal-fired power plants emit 3.5 tons of mercury every year.

IEPA Director Doug Scott said, “The governor’s mercury proposal is among the strongest in the nation, and this multi-pollutant plan makes it even better by ensuring significant reductions of other harmful power plant pollutants.”

Ameren’s Vice President for Environmental, Safety and Health Mike Menne said that the company fully supports the goal of reducing mercury emissions in ways that are technically feasible and economically reasonable. “We hope to build upon the extensive research we have done and continue to do at our coal- fired generating facilities,” he said.

Mercury becomes toxic when it enters lakes and streams from the atmosphere through rain and snow. People can become exposed to dangerous levels of mercury by eating fish from contaminated lakes and waterways. Mercury exposure can harm developing fetuses and can cause mental retardation, cerebral palsy, lower IQs, slow motor functions, deafness, blindness and other health problems.

Recent studies indicate that as many as 10 percent of babies born each year in the United States are exposed to excessive mercury levels in the womb.