SPRINGFIELD -- Legislation aimed at paving the way for a clean-coal power plant in central Illinois won approval in the Illinois House Tuesday evening.
Backers of the $3.5 billion Taylorville Energy Center had seen their proposal fall short earlier in the day, but scrambled to round up the necessary votes to send the measure to the Senate for further action.
The final vote was 63-50.
Supporters say the facility will create 2,500 construction jobs and 150 permanent jobs. In addition, it will require the use of Illinois coal, which will result in growth in mining jobs.
"This bill is vitally important to the economy of central Illinois," said state Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, who represents the area where the plant will be built.
The facility is being planned by Omaha, Neb.-based Tenaska. The 716 megawatt plant would convert coal into clean burning substitute natural gas and electricity. If approved, the plant could be on line by 2015.
"This is a unique opportunity folks. We need to take advantage of it," said state Rep. Bob Flider, D-Mount Zion.
"We have a lot of coal in Illinois. We have to make sure we utilize it," added state Rep. Dan Reitz, D-Steeleville.
But, groups representing manufacturers and competing power generators lobbied hard to kill the proposal, which they say would require large businesses to pay higher-than-market rates for electric power.
The estimated $286 million in higher overall annual electric costs could result in job cuts, they argue.
In addition, power giant Exelon Corp. sent its legion of lobbyists into the Capitol to defeat the measure.
State Rep. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, said Tenaska is getting a "sweetheart deal" because Tenaska will be allowed to charge higher rates than existing utilities.
"Whatever happened to free enterprise? If this is such a great idea, why can't they risk their own capital," said Cultra, who was among those casting a "no" vote.
Mautino said the project could shine a spotlight on one of Illinois' greatest untapped assets.
"This is a link to clean coal," said Mautino, who sponsored the legislation.
"We should be willing to support this simply because it is going to increase the potential use of Illinois coal. We're sitting on a competitive advantage," said state Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville.
The legislation is Senate Bill 2485.