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Energy for Illinois

A big-picture summary

Illinois Issues

August 1980

The first article in the magazine's multi-author series on Illinois energy issues.  I wrote five of them altogether—on energy-efficient buildings, on government's role in transportation, on synfuels, on ethanol, and this big-picture introduction. For the others, see "Illinois Issues energy series" here.


The piece was a scene-setter that offered an historical perspective on energy use and production since the advent of the Euro-American era and tried to put Illinois policy in the national context. That "post-petroleum age" that I assumed was just around the corner is still not in sight. Someday.


An editor’s note informed readers that I “specialize in planning, land use and energy issues.” I suppose so; I always thought that I specialized in paying my bills. My motto was, “You want energy? I’ll give you energy. You want bird-houses, I'll give you bird-houses.”


Illinois Issues' introduction: Illinois' energy diet, like the nation's, has never stayed set for long: economics, politics and technology have changed the types and amounts of fuel we have consumed. But now the nation's gluttonous appetite for foreign imports has forced us to look at a new menu—it's a lean one, but it has all the virtues of home cooking


* * *


Illinoisans stand, in company with other Americans, at the beginning of the post-petroleum age. They do so nervously, knowing that the scarcity of traditional fossil fuels will change society but not knowing how or how much. It is as if they stand poised at the edge of a chasm and know they must jump across, but a fog of statistics and rhetoric makes it impossible to see clearly what lies on the other side. But here history offers some consolations. Illinois has survived at least two wrenching energy transitions in the past which were as fundamental in their effects as the one now confronting our state, nation, and the Western world.


When the first wave of European settlers arrived in Illinois during the early 1800's, water, animals, and firewood were the energy sources of the day. These sources shaped that crude civilization as profoundly as petroleum has shaped our own. Settlements were built near rivers for reasons of both industry and transportation. Water-powered grinding and saw mills, and prevailing transportation technologies (first oars, then steam-driven paddles) could be more efficiently applied on water than on land. (The early forerunner of the corner gas station was the riverbank woodlot run by backwoods entrepreneurs who sold cut firewood to passing steamboats.) Farms were typically carved out of woodlands because trees were the source of building materials and energy for heating, cooking, and curing.


Wood also fueled industry. Charcoal heated local furnaces to manufacture iron, although most iron ore was imported from England. Wood fires heated the large pots filled with brine to make salt, which some regard as the state's first industry; the salt-making industry near Shawneetown was considered such an important enterprise that Congress set aside 180,000 acres of timber to keep the brine bubbling.


Wood was vital. It was also free and accessible. But woodcutters gradually learned a lesson which 20th century IIlinoisans are only now relearning: that as a resource diminishes, the cost of recovering what's left increases, until eventually a market is created for replacements once dismissed as uneconomical. At the beginning of the 19th century, Illinois harbored some 14 million acres of hardwood forest (42 percent of its land area). Trees were felled for fuel, farmland, and lumber, and by the 1970s, only some 3 million acres of forested land were left. Wood which once could be had free for a walk had to be bought and hauled in, and the price covered transporting it from ever more distant stands of timber.


There was, however, an alternative—coal. Coal had been discovered in Illinois in 1673, and commercial mining began as early as 1810. But it was not until wood supplies, particularly near towns, began to be depleted that coal began to be used in significant quantities in smithies and for some home heating. By 1840 Illinois mines were producing 17,000 tons of coal a year.


The railroad and coal industries grew together, pit by mile. Until the railroads provided links between coal fields and the burgeoning industrial centers, mining had been a local business. For example, the coal mines in antebellum St. Clair County had supplied coal to St. Louis since the 1820s. But until the railroads spurred demand there had been little interest in the state's coal wealth, and as late as the 1850s no one knew exactly how much coal there was in Illinois.


But it can also be said that coal made the railroads possible. As historian Robert P. Howard notes, "When the time came to build railroads, most of the original timber had been chopped away . . . . To make possible the development of railroads and factories, the state turned to the thick beds of bituminous coal."


The consequences for the state were profound. Railroads made cities possible, and coal made industry possible. Settlement largely abandoned the rivers and followed rail lines. Manufacturing drew people off farms, and the farmers who remained took advantage of their access to new markets and switched from subsistence to cash crop agriculture.

Coal also brought fundamental changes to the economics of energy in Illinois. Wood had been free for the taking, and it usually required no expertise and no more capital than the cost of a saw and a wagon to open for business.


Coal, on the other hand, required large amounts of capital (by the late 1860s, a typical Sangamon County deep mine already cost at least $80,000), plus management and transportation costs. The effect was to concentrate in fewer and fewer hands the ownership and control over energy supplies.


From the Civil War until World War I, Illinoisans—especially in urban centers—were more dependent on coal than they are today on petroleum. Coal heated homes and ran factories. Converted to gas and later to electricity, it lighted parlors and streets. It ran the transportation system, too: railroads between cities and electric streetcars within cities. In 1918, at the all-time peak in Illinois coal production, Illinois had nearly 400 major mines employing more than 91,000 miners who removed 88 million tons of coal.


Petroleum products


Although the coal did not run out, it was and still is dirty and cumbersome. Refined petroleum products offered energy that was cleaner, easier to handle and more efficient than coal. Oil was discovered in southern Illinois in the late 1880's, and for a while during the 1930's the state was a significant national producer. Heating oil and natural gas gradually took away coal's market in home heating, and gasoline and diesel fuels replaced coal in transportation. By World War II oil and gas had banished coal to generating plants and steel furnaces.


As coal had done before it, petroleum as a new energy source would cause profound social and economic changes. Just as coal had made railroads possible, petroleum made the automobile possible. And as railroads made cities possible, automobiles made suburbs possible. If Illinois' monument to coal is the world's largest steel complex in Chicago, its monument to oil may be suburban Schaumburg's Woodfield mall, the world's largest enclosed shopping mall.


Illinois' energy diet has never stayed set for long, because changing economics and technological innovations combine to make new fuels popular and old ones outmoded. Nuclear power is the most recent addition to Illinois' energy menu. Though it has never lived up to its promise to deliver electrical energy so cheaply that it wouldn't have to be metered, nuclear energy has made deep inroads into coal's traditional electrical generating market in Illinois. The nation's first commercial nuclear power plant was built in Dresden, Illinois, by Commonwealth Edison in 1957, and as a result of ComEd's continuing advocacy, Illinois now generates more of its electricity with nuclear power (27 percent in 1977) than any other state.


Just as significant as the changes in the types of energy Illinois has consumed in the last two centuries is the change in the sheer amount. Illinois' per capita energy consumption has kept approximate pace with that of the U.S. as a whole in recent years. This means that the average Illinois resident, like the average U.S. resident, consumes about twice the energy used by his or her Western European counterparts who enjoy the same standard of living.


Illinois' energy use may be measured in annual gross energy consumption, which is the sum of all primary energy sources used (such as gasoline or heating oil) and of secondary energy sources (such as electricity produced from coal, oil, gas or uranium). Illinois' annual gross energy consumption grew by some 41 percent from 1963 to 1977, according to a 1979 study published by the Illinois Institute of Natural Resources (IINR) titled "Illinois Energy Consumption 1963-1977." In 1963, Illinois consumed 2,801.7 trillion Btus; in 1977, the state consumed 4,201.5 trillion Btus. (A Btu, or British thermal unit, is the heat needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. A gallon of gasoline has a heat-producing potential of about 125,000 Btus; Illinois' 1977 energy consumption thus equaled 33.6 billion gallons of gasoline.) Of the total 4,201.5 trillion Btus, transportation and electric utilities each consumed roughly one-fourth, and the rest was divided among residential (18 percent), industrial (19 percent) and commercial (13 percent) uses.


During these 14 years, there were equally pronounced changes in the types of fuels used in Illinois. Gasoline use rose by 61 percent, liquified gas (used mostly on farms) by 140 percent, natural gas by 72 percent and jet fuel by 140 percent. Home heating oil and diesel fuel rose only slightly; and the use of coal to produce electricity dropped 11 percent even though electricity use rose by 130 percent. The winner was nuclear power, which increased by 290 percent.


Petroleum use


Though total per capita energy use in Illinois closely parallels that of the U.S. as a whole (with exceptions during recent bad winters), the energy mix in Illinois does not. Rather, it reflects the state's peculiar geographical and geological circumstances. Because Illinois is linked by several natural gas pipelines to the fields in the Texas-Oklahoma panhandle and the Gulf of Mexico, most of its homes are heated with gas; the result is a per capita gas consumption that is twice the national average. Relatively little oil is used for home heating. Because coal is available for utilities to burn and great reliance is placed on nuclear power, relatively little oil is used for electrical generation. Because so many Illinoisans live in the Chicago area with its extensive mass transit systems, relatively little oil is used for transportation. As a result, per capita use of petroleum is lower in Illinois than the U.S. average, while per capita use of coal and uranium is correspondingly higher.


Gross energy trends


Who provides this feast of energy? Through the coal era, Illinois had been self-sufficient in energy, not only providing for its own needs but exporting energy in the form of coal to less-favored states. But by the early 1960s Illinois was importing more than a third of the energy it used, and by 1975 it was importing more than half.


The nature of this transformation from energy independence to energy dependence is revealed in "Illinois Energy Production 1960–1977," (a companion study to the IINR study mentioned above). From 1963 through 1977, gross energy production in the state declined slightly (from 1,845 trillion Btus to 1,729 trillion) while consumption pushed upward at an average annual rate of nearly 3 percent. Coal has always been the major contributor to the state's energy balance, since the state historically has produced more than it used. Coal's share of the state's energy output increased slightly from 65 percent in 1960 to 71 percent in 1977, even though actual production of coal declined during those years. But oil's share dropped from 26 percent of the state's gross energy production in 1960 to only 9 percent by 1977, and the marketed production of Illinois natural gas dropped from 11.7 billion cubic feet to only 1.0 billion. In 1963 Illinois produced from its wells and mines roughly two-thirds (66 percent) of the energy it consumed, but by 1977 that figure had dropped to two-fifths (41 percent).


The result of these trends were noted in the earlier IINR study on consumption, which showed that Illinois' gross energy imports increased 98 percent between 1963 and 1975 as consumption increased at a rate five times faster than production. During 1975, Illinois imported 90 percent of its petroleum, 99 percent of its natural gas and 100 percent of its uranium. Furthermore, Illinois was obtaining that energy from fewer and fewer suppliers. Just seven of the state's 19 natural gas distributors supply 98 percent of the gas used in Illinois; they in turn are supplied by nine interstate pipeline companies, one of which accounts for 70 percent of the market. Similar concentrations obtain in oil and electricity of the state's 50 electrical generating companies, four supply some 90 percent of the electricity generated in recent years).


Illinois is thus revealed as a microcosm of the nation. Like the U.S., Illinois depends on a variety of energy sources. Also like the U.S., it consumes more energy than it produces, and relies increasingly for the rest on sources outside its borders. The cost and availability of those sources are determined by decisions made by corporations or national governments—including the U.S.—whose interests may not always coincide with those of the state or the consumers of Illinois.


Illinois energy resources


The irony of Illinois' energy dependence is that Illinois, perhaps more than any other industrial state, is blessed with rich reserves of potential energy. Among its holdings of major traditional energy resources, for instance, are an estimated 162 billion tons of coal. This is enough, at 1979 rates of extraction, to last another 2,700 years, and, according to one estimate, this is the equivalent to some 721 billion barrels of oil. Economically recoverable reserves, however, are much smaller, only some 30 billion tons. But as oil prices rise, they tend to push up the price that can be commanded for its substitutes such as coal, with the result that the estimates of the amount of coal that can be mined profitably has been rising too.


This coal can be used either directly or as a feedstock for synthetic gases and refinable liquids. And there still is oil in Illinois. Some 3 billion barrels of oil have been pumped from Illinois wells since the first one opened in 1886. Industry experts estimate that of the remaining 5.8 billion barrels, perhaps as much as 2 billion can be recovered using advanced tertiary recovery methods if prices rise enough to make it worthwhile.

Such riches offer planners some unique possibilities. The state has applied to the federal Department of Energy for $4 million to study an "energyplex" to be built in Cumberland County at which coal would be used to fire a mine-mouth generating plant. Combustion by-products would be used to make farm fertilizers, and carbon dioxide would be captured and injected underground to assist in the recovery of petroleum.


There is a wealth of lesser energy sources as well. There is, for example, a modest but locally significant potential for hydroelectric generation; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that there are nearly 300 potential hydroelectric sites in the state. Together, these sites would be capable of generating 989 megawatts of electricity annually, or almost 10 times the state's 1978 production of 101 million megawatts. Wind power, once popular in rural areas for pumping, still awaits exploitation for small uses. Municipal garbage is an energy source; for instance, it has been proposed to heat the state's huge Department of Transportation headquarters in Springfield with steam produced in a trash-fed boiler located at a nearby land fill. And oil shale deposits lie under roughly half the state, and though less rich than those better known in the West, the oil shale can be recovered at competitive prices if processes such as the "hydro-torting" tested at Chicago's Institute of Gas Technology prove reliable.


Solar energy


The most highly touted of all the new energy alternatives, of course, is solar energy. Though it presently contributes an insignificant share of the state's energy diet, solar's potential is huge. A 1976 study by the state's then-Department of Business and Economic Development calculated that if only one-tenth of the state's urbanized land (1,128 square miles or 2 percent of the state's total land area) were equipped with solar collectors operating at only a 32 percent efficiency rate, the total solar energy thus amassed annually would amount to 487 trillion Btus, which is more than 11 percent of the state's total energy consumption.


Although it is seldom described as such, Illinois already has in place a vast solar energy system covering some 80 percent of the state's land area—agriculture. The growing popularity of agriculturally derived ethanol as a motor fuel has awakened people to the fact that, as the National Gasohol Commission puts it, American agriculture is not a food production system but an energy production system. Trees, grass, corn and all other plants are nature's solar collectors, able to convert the sun's energy into carbohydrates via photosynthesis. Oil, natural gas, and coal are also solar fuels in this sense, since they each derive from plant matter; only uranium does not owe its energy to the sun.


Plants can be burned directly, like firewood; a University of Illinois researcher foresees a day when all of Illinois south of Mount Vernon will be one giant energy farm growing short-rotating crops of hardwoods.


Plants can be distilled into liquid fuels like ethanol. They can be decomposed bacterially either directly or as manure into combustible gases such as methane. It's been estimated that Illinois livestock annually produce manure worth 32 trillion Btus.


Plants can be used as a substitute for nonfuel petroleum products; the U.S. Department of Agriculture's research center at Peoria is exploring the use of soybean oil transmission fluid.


Even plant waste and crop residues have energy value; the University of Illinois calculates that corn residues left in Illinois fields could supply the energy equivalent of 11 nuclear power plants or 100 million gallons of gasoline.


Each of these fuels poses unresolved technical and environmental questions—as indeed do oil, coal and nuclear energy. Still, the potential is considerable. And unlike energy industries which rely on the one-time harvest of fossil fuels, the energy harvest from farms could, theoretically, go on forever.


Finally, there is conservation. Like Americans everywhere, Illinoisans waste much of the energy they consume. Since 1976 the state, largely in response to federal directives, has begun a variety of conservation initiatives designed to encourage such energy-saving practices as carpooling, lowering thermostats in winter and raising them in summer, increasing insulation, and changing farm tillage practices. Private utilities have taken similar steps. Though no one knows for certain whether it is these programs or the escalating costs of energy that are prompting compliance, the fact remains that Illinoisans' energy appetite, though not yet actually shrinking, is now growing at a slower pace.


The problem, then, is not where to find energy in Illinois but how to harness it. And technical questions can be answered. But because energy is so basic to society, any major change in production methods, distribution or use will change society itself. Energy thus becomes a political issue, not merely in the partisan sense, but in the broader sense of that word.


Alan McGowan, editor of Environment magazine, recently observed, "We long ago learned that energy policy is actually economic policy in disguise." Because energy is a product, there are obvious commercial interests at stake in any reforms in our energy habits. Illinois' billion-dollar coal industry, for example, lobbies constantly for changes in laws that will enable more of its product to be burned instead of oil, or coal from other states. Electric utilities lobby against solar legislation to protect the status quo, fearing that solar power will further reduce a demand for electric power that already is diminishing because of conservation and slower economic growth.


Illinois business has complained of the indirect effect of the state protecting the established utilities. The complaint is that business generally is getting stuck with a disproportionate share of rising utility costs because the state's commerce commission finds it easier to shift such costs "where the votes aren't"—with the result that marginal firms are going out of business.


The nation's continued reliance on expensive imported oil has pushed up gasoline prices to the point where American auto makers cannot sell their gas-hungry models. A direct result in Illinois was the request for the General Assembly to approve a $20 million loan guarantee to Chrysler to forestall the closing of that firm's Belvidere plant which would result in layoffs for 5,455 and possible costs to the state of $652 million.


Energy economics


Energy, in short, means jobs, and energy decisions by government and business can shape the economic futures of counties, regions, states and the nation. Southern Illinois mayors have mounted a "Declaration of Energy Independence" petition campaign among coal state community leaders encouraging the unlimited use of high-sulfur midwestern coal. The Southern Illinois University's coal research center at Carbondale has calculated that such a move might boost personal income in Illinois by $460 million a year by 1985 and add up to $20.3 million a year in taxes for the state treasury.


The economic impact of large-scale energy projects is not always benign, however. DeWitt County, site of Illinois Power Co.'s Clinton nuclear generating plant, has applied for $170,000 in federal hardship funds to study remedies to problems the plant has caused, such as the increased costs for services and expected post-construction unemployment. And farther south, Carbondale's Southern Illinoisan admits the need for economic growth but argues in its editorials for a tax on coal as it's mined to compensate a state or county for the loss of its nonrenewable resource. A state coal severance tax is needed, according to the editorials, because there "is no reason for Illinois to subsidize the nation's energy needs through economic exploitation of its coal counties [as] the wealth of our region is dug away in 30 or 40 years."


Those who want smaller-scale community energy systems are also arguing an economic platform. A policy aimed at energy self-sufficiency in homes, farms and towns would also go a long way toward economic self-sufficiency. What is really being proposed in such cases, wrote Richard J. Barnet in his recent book, The Lean Years, is a "shift definition of economic health . . . that insists that communities where people actually live be in balance, and not be mere appendages of distant economies beyond their control."

Self-sufficiency is widely regarded as a remote hope in a world so interdependent. Energy is so interwined with everything else that energy policy is not simply an economic policy in disguise but also a political policy, an environmental policy, a land use policy, even a farm policy. Because economic and political constituencies are so often the same, coal county legislators, for instance, owe allegiance as much to a fuel as to the voters back home who mine it.


Examples abound. Illinois farmers who urge a program of tax exemptions and loans to stimulate ethanol production from grain admit that one of their aims is to open a new market for surplus corn. Congress in April approves an Energy Mobilization Board which would have the power to waive substantive state environmental laws to speed priority energy projects. A delegation of industry and union representatives calls on Sen. Charles H. Percy to ask him to soften the 1977 federal strip mine act—which if done might consign thousands of acres of prime Illinois farmland to uncertain reclamation.


Complex controversies


A perfect illustration of the complex ways in which energy issues become tangled is the continuing controversy over the use of low-sulfur western coal in Illinois power plants. Mandated by federal clean air laws to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions, many electric utilities opted to import cleaner coal from western states instead of building the scrubbers needed to continue burning Illinois high-sulfur coal. The Illinois coal miners complain, saying that the Illinois Commerce Commission rules are unfair to Illinois coal. The commission allows transportation costs to be passed along automatically to utility customers as part of the fuel adjustment charges, yet scrubber costs must be approved via formal and lengthy hearings in order to be added to customer rates. Utilities retort that scrubbing Illinois coal will make rates go up, which consumer groups are pledged to fight; meanwhile scientists warn that not scrubbing Illinois coal will create more of the "acid rain" that is killing lakes along the eastern seaboard.


At its most profound, the energy debate is a contest of philosophies between what might be called the self-sufficientists and the corporatists. The former seek to divorce communities and individuals from corporate energy suppliers by establishing decentralized renewable energy systems. The result would be a 21st-century equivalent of a wood lot where energy is again free, locally accessible and renewable. This view is summed up in the Central Illinois Consumer Energy Council slogan: "Our energy future—we can't afford to let the corporations decide it."


Arrayed on the other side are the corporatists. They foresee a future which very much resembles the present, with energy consumers at all levels purchasing that energy from a few centralized and thus distant sources of supply. The changes would occur at the supply end of the system. For example, oil refineries would switch to syncrude instead of underground crude, or perhaps even refine grain for fuel ethanol. In either event the motorist at the pump would tell little difference.


Ultimately, government will have to mediate this dispute. But so far the direction from government more often reflects confusion than consensus. For instance, Gov. Thompson has been a stern critic of what he has called "the chaotic [federal] map on which I as Governor must chart an energy . . . policy for Illinois." Thompson often points to Washington's repeated failures to commit itself to state-federal coal conversion projects such as the $500 million Illinois Coal Gasification Group's project in Perry County which still awaits backing from the U.S. Department of Energy. He describes federal strip mine reclamation and clean air regulations as overly strict and concludes that there is "an inability on the part of the federal government to resolve conflicting energy, economic and environmental policies."


Government policy


Thompson may be right if you consider this spring's announcements from the Carter administration. In March President Carter reaffirmed his decision to require conversion of 107 oil-fired boilers to coal by 1985. Carter was speaking to an audience of coal state officials including Illinois. But two weeks prior to the president's speech, Douglas Costle, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, told a coal symposium in Chicago that his agency was planning to crack down on the acid rain believed to be caused by coal-fired plants. Carter's long-fought-for energy policy places great emphasis on synthetic fuels from coal and thus has been widely applauded in Illinois. Carter's energy policy promises a more coherent federal policy than in the past when the policy was to have no policy at all. But coherence and effectiveness are not necessarily the same thing; there are looming doubts about the safety and cost of coal synfuels, which if proven would hobble the national campaign to reduce foreign oil imports.


Washington makes a convenient target, but Illinois has scarcely been more successful at resolving its own energy, economic and environmental policies. Indeed, Illinois has no formal energy policy yet—in spite of the fact it has accumulated a jumble of administrative machinery in the form of commissions, institutes, committees, and task forces to study, recommend, coordinate, finance and report on energy matters. (The Energy Policy and Planning Act, which took effect in the fall of 1979, mandates the Institute of Natural Resources and the Energy Resources Commission to develop a comprehensive policy to promote energy self-reliance, a job not expected to be finished until late 1981.)


Illinois does have a de facto energy policy, however, which may be deduced from this bureaucratic structure the way a paleontologist might deduce the shape of a dinosaur from its skeleton. Illinois is deeply committed to coal, though its concerns remain parochial and largely economic. Thompson's plan to convert state facilities from oil to coal is not so much a way to ease the state's energy dependence as it is a way to shorten its unemployment lines. State government is also committed to coal synfuels by virtue of its $65 million coal development bond program passed in 1974. It is committed less enthusiastically to conservation. According to a national survey of state conservation efforts by Common Cause, Illinois ranked only "fair" (27 states were ranked "unsatisfactory"). It is perhaps reflective of Illinois' commitment to conservation that the state did not arrange to put storm windows on the Executive Mansion until the spring of 1980.


Illinois is the nation's leading producer of ethanol for Gasohol™, and last November Thompson announced his decision to convert the state auto fleet to Gasohol as part of the state's efforts to increase the market for the fuel. When Congress exempted Gasohol from the federal 4 cents-a-gallon excise tax, the Gasohol boom was made possible, according to ethanol-producer Archer, Daniels Midland in Decatur. But Gov. Thompson has so far resisted suggestions that Gasohol be exempted from the state's 7 1/2¢ per gallon motor fuel tax because such an exemption would cut state road funds by an estimated $100 million over four years.


Nuclear energy


In the field of nuclear energy, Illinois has become a national leader by default. The state's government has traditionally followed a policy of leaving energy policy to energy companies. As Illinois Times columnist Fletcher Farrar Jr., noted last summer, "Half of northern Illinois' electricity is supplied by nuclear, and the state is a headquarters for nuclear waste without any public policy-maker having made my conscious decision for it to be that way."


Illinois also shows some commitment to the development of "alternative" energies. But the $5 million bond fund set aside for the purpose is one-thirteenth the size of the bond fund for coal. Among these alternatives is solar energy, a field in which Illinois has taken small but significant steps. In 1977 the Comprehensive Solar Energy Act (P.A. 80-430) became law; its purpose is to establish a standard terminology, assess solar's potential in the state, and examine solutions to the problems of incentives, consumer protection, education and so on. In addition, solar heating and cooling equipment may be exempted from local real estate taxes. But proposed legislation to actively encourage solar through tax credits or other incentives has run into cloudy weather in the General Assembly.


Most of the innovations which contributed to past energy revolutions came not from federal or state government but from local governments and from private business. That is surprisingly true even today. Although the scale of certain types of energy development schemes, such as coal conversion projects, are in the reach of only the largest corporations and state and federal governments, there are great possibilities for economical small-scale projects. Communities across the state have become workshops for small-scale, decentralized energy experiments—including conservation. And the private sector, responding to imperatives of its own, has been providing leadership in conservation and new energy technology. Local governments such as Carbondale, Evanston, and Springfield have undertaken programs (often with state or federal support) in weatherization, bicycle commuting and the like. Decatur instituted a computer-matched carpool system in cooperation with the state and local employers. Champaign has adopted an energy-saving building code. The Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission has adopted a land-use policy plan which calls for solar access regulations, more intensive inner-city development to slow urban sprawl, more innovative mass transit, and so on. Illinois Bell Telephone was road-testing Gasohol more than a year before the idea occurred to the state.


In the private sector, innovation is proving profitable in different ways. To cite just one example, the International Harvester Co. plans to trim energy use in its plants and offices by 15 percent by 1985. Company officials estimate that the plan, which includes use of microprocessor-controlled thermostats and combustion of waste materials as boiler fuels, will cut fuel oil use by 63 percent and natural gas use by 14 percent—and save a total of $34 million.


In the meantime, Illinoisans are revising their own individual energy policies, presumably in response to escalating costs. Farmers are installing solar pig barns and investing in co-op ethanol stills. Gasoline consumption has dropped by 44 gallons per driver since 1978 for a statewide savings of some 400 million gallons in 1979 over the state's 1978 consumption of 5.5 billion gallons. And electricity consumption, which for two decades climbed at an average annual rate of roughly 7 percent, started to change in the mid-1970's. In the last two or three years, the average annual rate of increase has been about 3 percent.


Divisive issue


It may be useful to recall the advice of James Flug, director of the Energy Action Educational Foundation. He told to the audience at the seventh annual Illinois Energy Conference in Chicago last fall: "Let's be clear about one thing. Most energy issues are inherently divisive. For, especially when price is involved, we are facing some very basic questions of the distribution of income, power, and control in our society and our economy." That was true in 1860 and 1920 as well as in 1980. The difference may be that this time, everyone knows it. ●




John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

See Home Page/Learn/

Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago


The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.

Illinois Great Places

The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our  shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.

McLean County Museum

of History

A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.

Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois


Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."

Illinois Digital Archives


Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards,  posters, and videos.

The Illinois State Museum


The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and  history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.

Chronicling Illinois

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.


I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered." 

Illinois Labor History Society

The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like. 

Illinois Migration History 1850-2017

The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories  (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly. 

History on the Fox

An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than

2,000 words.)




Southern Illinois University Press 2017

A work of solid history, entertainingly told.

Michael Burlingame,

author of Abraham 

Lincoln: A Life 

One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.

Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018

A lively and engaging study . . .  an enthralling narrative.

James Edstrom

The Annals of Iowa

A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

as well as local historians generally.

John Hoffman

Journal of Illinois HIstory

A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

Harold Henderson 

Midwestern Microhistory

A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.

Greg Hall

Journal of the Illinois

State Historical Society

Click  here 

to read about

the book 

Click  here 

to buy the book 


Southern Illinois University Press

SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.

University of

Illinois Press

The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog  (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more.  Of particular note are its Prairie State Books,  quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.

University of

Chicago Press

The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to

Vivian Maier.

Northern Illinois University Press

The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.


Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order

by book title. 


Illinois Center for the Book

Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.

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