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Carbondale church installs solar energy system

CARBONDALE — Members of Church of the Good Shepherd United Church of Christ are committed to being good stewards of the environment. It is so important that it is written in the church covenant.

This week, the congregation moved closer to that goal by installing a solar energy system.

The Rev. Kim Magwire, Dale and Jan Ritzel and Rose Bender said the church has worked toward this project for many years.

“One of our covenants deals with whole earth and sustainability,” Magwire said.

The Whole Earth Covenant says the way the congregation lives out this covenant is by reviewing current practices and implementing best practices. Some of those practices have included using recycled paper for newsletters, recycling, composting, not using Styrofoam and reducing use of bottled water, paper plates and plastic utensils. 

Even as far back as 1975, the church has addressed environmental concerns. That year, they published a vegetarian cookbook.

“This in general is a United Church of Christ initiative,” Jan Ritzel said.

A solar project has been discussed by the church council and congregation for years, according to Dale Ritzel. For many years, the project would have come at a tremendous cost.

“Different lines came together. This is the time to do it,” Dale Ritzel said. “It did not make sense not to do it anymore, given the ethical and moral cost of fossil fuel.”

The system is an 8.28 kilowatt solar photovoltaic energy system installed on the north end of the flat roof of the church building by StraightUp Solar. It includes 24 solar panels.

bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

James Fisher (left) and Tyler Laquinta of Straight Up Solar install solar panels on the roof of the Church of the Good Shepherd on Feb. 9 in Carbondale.

Dale Ritzel said a renewable energy jobs bill was passed in Illinois in 2016. It not only provides for training employees to work in solar energy businesses, it offered a way to purchase solar energy. Solar electric system owners have the opportunity to sell Solar Renewable Energy Credits or SRECS, making solar energy a commodity that can be bought and sold, just like electricity.

What this means, along with tax credits and other benefits specifically for not-for-profit organizations, is that Church of the Good Shepherd will receive almost 90 percent of the cost of installation back during the first year its solar energy system operates.

“We’re saving nearly $1,100 per year on our electric bill. Over 25 years, that’s nearly $28,000,” Ritzel said.

He added that the system will also remove 207 tons of carbon dioxide from the church’s carbon footprint. That is equivalent to not burning 201,705 pounds or 100.9 tons of coal, not driving 414,000 miles by automobile (using 21,114 gallons of gasoline), planting 4,823 trees or recycling 654 tons of waste instead of sending it to a landfill.

“For this church, it was important,” Magwire said.

The project was not affected by a new 30 percent tariff on solar panels because the decision was made just before the tariff was enacted.

“Panels are a small amount of the total cost,” Jan Ritzel said.

“The total cost of the project was around $23,000,” Dale Ritzel said.

The project was expected to be finished by Friday afternoon. Then, Ameren and the city of Carbondale will have to complete inspections before it can be put into use.

Good Shepherd is the first church in Illinois South Conference of United Church of Christ to undertake a solar energy project. Ritzel believes this is the first solar project on a church in Carbondale and in the region.

Illnois Democratic Gubernatorial Primary
Chris Kennedy says he is best choice for Illinois governor

CARBONDALE — Chris Kennedy believes he has a set of skills that uniquely qualify him to be governor of the state of Illinois.

Kennedy moved to Illinois in 1986 to work for Archer Daniels Midland Co. in Decatur. He has held positions at Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Merchandise Mart Properties in Chicago, as well as serving on the board of trustees for University of Illinois and board of Greater Chicago Food Depository. Those positions taught him how different parts of the country interact with the economy.

He and his wife, Sheila, run Top Box Foods, a hunger-relief agency they founded which provides high-quality, healthy, low-cost food to underserved neighborhoods.

Kennedy, who has four children, says wants the same thing everyone else in the state wants: to keep our children here and keep our communities intact.

“I want my kids to stay in Illinois because I want to be close to my grandchildren, if I’m lucky enough to have them,” he said.

Kennedy said Illinois has the largest outmigration of millennials and the largest outmigration of college freshmen in the country.

“I don’t think it has to be that way,” he added.

He compared the state’s economy to a circular drain. The one thing that will change that is the power of higher education, particularly capitalizing on the research institutions like Southern Illinois University. Professors create new knowledge through research. When that knowledge is applied in a practical sense, it creates new jobs.

“The average commute time in Chicago is 59 minutes. Almost everyone in the state lives within 59 minutes of a university,” Kennedy said.

He added that the state has the wrong tax system to fund education, but he sees the problem as a lawmaker problem. Kennedy believes Illinois needs a progressive income tax. Even with a Democratic super majority in both the Illinois House and Senate and a Democratic governor, they could not get changes made in the tax system.

“The state isn’t broke. The legislature is broke. Rauner allowed the budget problem to become an economic problem for the entire state,” Kennedy said.

One of the problems, according to Kennedy, is too many lawmakers with conflicts of interest. For example, Mike Madigan, speaker of the Illinois House, is also chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois. As chair of the party, he appointed Joe Berrios as head of Cook County Democratic Park. He got himself appointed as Cook County assessor. Madigan also works as a property tax appeals lawyer.

Kennedy said the Sears Tower sold for $1.2 billion dollars, approximately $600 million below its value. A building at 300 N. LaSalle St. sold at $848 million, $400 million below its value. The missed property taxes on these two buildings, which amounts to about $50 million, could help fund Chicago schools.

Kennedy believes a progressive income tax would create revenue to fund higher education.

While on his commute into Chicago, Kennedy often heard tourism ads for the states of Michigan and Wisconsin. Those ads really irritated him after a couple decades.

“I started to see how you could use a tourism economy as an economic engine,” he said.

He wondered how to capitalize on the Illinois’ hills and forests and rivers, saying it’s an easy five or six hour drive to Southern Illinois tourism destinations.

The state needs third party tourism agencies that will create a comprehensive marketing strategy designed to draw consumers, along with a destination firms to bundle tourism assets.

Kennedy has visited Cairo to learn about the issues there. While he was in Cairo, he went to see the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. He walked up on the crumbling concrete, but no one else wanted to go with him.

“I went to see the confluence of these two great rivers. It’s beautiful, except you cannot see it because the state hasn’t pruned the damn trees,” Kennedy said.

He sees issues in Cairo as education issues.

“Zero percent of kinds in Cairo are college-ready. Seventy-five percent of high school graduates need remedial education,” Kennedy said. “The problem with Cairo is not with the housing authority. It’s with the school. It needs to be fully funded by the state.”

Kennedy is eighth of 11 children, and his wife is one of five children. He and his wife have nieces and nephews who will never work, but they will survive because they come from big families who will bring them along.

Kennedy said the people in Cairo come from a big American family that should bring them along, too, but we cannot ask people to support a corrupt system.

Kennedy favors legalizing recreational marijuana with some safeguards for children and levels of THC.

He favors term limits and is opposed to fracking.

“I don’t know why we’d introduce an unproven technology that has the potential to wreck the water,” Kennedy said.

He does not call himself a Kennedy Democrat, in reference to his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, but instead likes to be known as a “Teddy Kennedy” Democrat, in reference to another of his well-known uncles. His Uncle Teddy had friends who were Republicans and worked at keeping those friendships. He also was able to separate election tactics from the person running.

Trump won't declassify Democratic memo on Russia probe

WASHINGTON — Citing national security concerns, the White House on Friday formally notified the House intelligence committee that President Donald Trump is "unable" to declassify a memo drafted by Democrats that counters GOP allegations about abuse of government surveillance powers in the FBI's Russia probe.

White House counsel Don McGahn said in a letter to the committee that the memo contains "numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages" and asked the intelligence panel to revise the memo with the help of the Justice Department. He said Trump is still "inclined" to release the memo in the interest of transparency if revisions are made.

The president's rejection of the Democratic memo is in contrast to his enthusiastic embrace of releasing the Republican document, which he pledged before reading to make public. The president declassified the document last week, allowing its publication in full over the objections of the Justice Department.

The top Democrat on the intelligence panel, California Rep. Adam Schiff, criticized Trump for treating the two documents differently, saying the president is now seeking revisions by the same committee that produced the original Republican memo. Still, Schiff said, Democrats "look forward to conferring with the agencies to determine how we can properly inform the American people about the misleading attack on law enforcement by the GOP."

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi was less measured, saying the White House move is "part of a dangerous and desperate pattern of cover-up on the part of the president." California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee and has read the classified information both memos are based on, tweeted that Trump's blocking the memo is "hypocrisy at its worst."

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who produced the GOP memo, encouraged Democrats to accept the Justice Department's recommendations and "make the appropriate technical changes and redactions."

Trump has said the GOP memo "vindicates" him in the ongoing Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller. But congressional Democrats and Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who helped draft the GOP memo, have said it shouldn't be used to undermine the special counsel.

Earlier Friday, White House spokesman Raj Shah said Trump was discussing the Democratic document with the White House counsel's office, FBI Director Christopher Wray and another top Justice Department official.

The president had until Saturday to decide whether to allow the classified material to become public after the House intelligence committee voted Monday to release it. Republicans backed releasing the memo in committee with a unanimous vote, but several said they thought it should be redacted. Ryan also said he thought the Democratic document should be released.

In declining to declassify the document, the White House also sent lawmakers a letter signed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Wray, as well as a marked-up copy of the memo, laying out portions it considers too sensitive to make public. Among those passages are some that the Justice Department says could compromise intelligence sources and methods, ongoing investigations and national security if disclosed.

The White House message caps off a week in which Republicans and Democrats on the committee have publicly fought, with the panel now erecting a wall to separate feuding Republican and Democratic staffers who had long sat side by side.

The disagreements have escalated over the last year as Democrats have charged that Republicans aren't taking the panel's investigation into Russian election meddling seriously enough. They say Nunes' memo is designed as a distraction from the probe, which is looking into whether Trump's campaign was in any way connected to the Russian interference.

Trump declassified the GOP-authored memo over the objections of the FBI, which said it had "grave concerns" about the document's accuracy.

In Nunes' memo, Republicans took aim at the FBI and the Justice Department over the use of information from former British spy Christopher Steele in obtaining a secret warrant to monitor former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page. The warrant was obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. The main allegation was that the FBI and Justice Department didn't tell the court enough about Steele's anti-Trump bias or that his work was funded in part by Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

They argued that the reliance on Steele's material amounted to an improper politicization of the government's surveillance powers.

Democrats have countered that the GOP memo was inaccurate and a misleading collection of "cherry-picked" details. They noted that federal law enforcement officials had informed the court about the political origins of Steele's work and that some of the former spy's information was corroborated by the FBI.

They also noted that there was other evidence presented to the court besides Steele's information, though they have not provided details. The Democratic memo is expected to elaborate on these points.

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Carbondale Hilton Home2 Suites taking reservations for June 11; developers plan open house for mid-April

CARBONDALE — After breaking ground in May 2016, the Hilton Home2 Suites in downtown Carbondale has started to take reservations for a June 11 opening, according to its website.

Hotel Developer Srinivas Gundala said crews will begin putting in furniture and tiles for the floors as soon as next week. He said there is a planned open house for the middle of April, depending on how the back end of construction goes.

“We can’t wait anymore,” Gundala said. “We are looking forward to finishing the project.”

The Hilton website says the prime downtown location will put visitors at the entrance of Southern Illinois University Carbondale and in the center of Southern Illinois Healthcare systems.

The website says the hotel will consist of studio and one-bedroom suites, offering free Wi-Fi, living and sleeping areas, as well as a well-equipped kitchen complete with a full-size dishes, microwave and flatware.

Additionally, the hotel is planning to offer a complimentary breakfast, an indoor heated saline pool and a “Spin2 Cycle Center,” which is a laundry and fitness facility. There will also be an outdoor fire pit and grilling area, and it will be pet friendly, the website says.

According to booking prices on the website, prices start at $108 for a one-night stay after signing up for Hilton Honors, which is a free account.

When the hotel broke ground in May 2016, developers said it would be open in a year. The work didn’t get started until early August 2016, which pushed the open date back to just before the eclipse in August 2017.

In September 2017, when there were reports of polystyrene particles coming from the site’s exterior insulation finishing system, the Carbondale City Manager Gary Williams said developers told him the new open date was in January 2018.