Energy giant refuses to implement Sustainable Energy Plan in protest of Blagojevich's opposition to rate increase

Plan to increase Illinois’ use of renewables from .5 percent to 8 percent by 2013 on hold as ComEd plays politics

At this year’s Illinois Renewable Energy Fair, Hans Detweiler, deputy director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), stated that July 19 was a day to celebrate. The Illinois Commerce Commission adopted Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich’s Sustainable Energy Plan, which would increase the use of renewable energy from .5 percent to 8 percent by 2013.

The increase is equivalent to 1 million Illinois homes using electricity generated by renewable energy sources. It will produce 8,000 jobs, generate $7 billion in income, and cut pollution from power plants.

The new Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard ensures utilities will use energy efficiency to meet a predetermined percentage of new electrical demand. Up to 10 percent will be met by 2009, increasing to 25 percent by 2018.

Under a previous program, DCEO invested $3 million per year on efficiency. The new program will invest $40 million.

The new statewide energy efficiency code for commercial buildings will also produce cost savings. New renewable fuels development programs will boost rural economies while lessening our dependence on imported oil.

Bob Lieberman, a member of the Illinois Commerce Commission who directed the effort to implement the initiatives, reminded listeners of the dramatic rise in energy costs over the past five years and the likelihood of similar electrical price increases. Renewable energy and efficiency were meant to lessen the impact of rising costs.

As efforts to limit releases of SO2 and CO2 increase, the price of electricity will increase. As Europe has implemented the Kyoto protocol, tradable permits for CO2 releases now exceed the cost of coal itself.

With the advent of electrical deregulation, the state no longer controls the price of electricity. Prices are set in regional markets, which are influenced by national and international energy prices. Since the cost of wind power should remain stable over the life of the generators, investments in efficiency and renewable energy help moderate price increases.

Efficiency offers consumers opportunities to use less energy when prices rise to meet peak demand by shifting their electrical consumption to low-cost periods. Smart conservation strategies have saved consumers up to 30 percent on their energy bills. Since efficiency lowers peak demand, it reduces the demand for natural gas in peaker plants, lowering prices for everyone in the region.

The most beneficial aspects of the new Federal Energy Bill are the incentives it offers utilities to upgrade their information systems to send messages to consumers about changing rates in time to adjust their use.

Lieberman pointed out that for wind energy to play a substantial role in our energy future, the problem of intermittent production must be solved. A potential solution is to build natural gas generation facilities with capacities similar to wind facilities so a reliable source of electrical output is assured. When the wind produces the required amount of power, the natural gas facility would not operate. But when needed, the peaker plant would cut in to assure the utility is receiving sufficient power. Without solving the reliability problem, wind could be only a marginal source of power.

Lieberman sees the state’s new commitment to renewable energy and efficiency as a remarkable achievement for Illinois. He was very happy that support existed for these new policies.

Barry Matchett of the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) was also pleased with the new state energy initiatives. The ELPC’s old energy model for 2000 through 2020 had projected a major role for natural gas in electrical generation. The new Sustainable Energy Plan would flatten future demand by its reliance on efficiency, offsetting reliance on natural gas electrical generation. Matchett reminded participants of the important work achieved in Illinois and the need for continued citizen support for sustainable energy.

This is what might have been. On Sept. 7, ComEd sent a letter to Blagojevich stating that their participation in the Sustainable Energy Plan is on hold due to his opposition to a rate increase. Stay tuned.

From the Sept. 14-20, 2005, issue

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