Renewable energy the third rails

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-117812648327536.jpg’, ‘Photo by Carol Gulya’, ‘IREA & ISEA at Chicago Green Festival (from left) Lin Vogl, IREA; Jenny Vogt, ISEA; Jim Gulyas, ISA.M‘);

The first half of the Illinois General Assembly session, in terms of pro-solar and wind power legislation, had the feel of Dickens A Tale of Two Cities, being the best of times and the worst of times. The growing concern about global climate change has generated a sense by most of the Illinois public to get on with reducing pollution and our rather large carbon footprint. The inauguration of the first electric price increase in a decade has had a more immediate effect of doing something about energy, although most of that focuses on returning to pre-frozen prices. The result has been a degree of paralysis in the process of addressing seriously how we use energy and pay for it.

One of the controversial, or “third rail” issues, is supporting renewable energy development through public benefit funds under the Renewable Energy Resources Program that comes out of rate payers. As one legislator told me, “No one wants to be linked to anything that remotely resembles supporting higher utility rates.” This may not be Profiles in Courage stuff, but then again, my name won’t be on the ballot next year, so I don’t envy legislators in this issue at all. Still, what is the addition of five, 10 or even 25 cents a month that goes for clean power for homes, schools and businesses against paying many dollars a month for the same old polluting stuff?

There has been some significant progress in legislation. As the Legislature ends its spring recess, it is good to detail a few of the ones that have made it through some of the legislative hoops:

Electricity Net Metering Bill Senate Bill (SB) 680—Sen. Michael Bond (D-Grayslake): This bill will require statewide standards for metering solar and wind systems on the electric grid, including equitable payment and consideration of renewable energy credits, or “green tags.” SB 680 passed the Illinois Senate unanimously and is now in the House, with Rep. Joann D Osmond (R-Antioch) as the chief sponsor.

Homeowners’ Solar Energy Act SB 526—Sen. John Cullerton (D-Chicago): This bill forbids homeowner or condominium associations from banning solar or other renewable energy systems from being installed except for reasons of health and safety. SB 526 also passed the Illinois Senate unanimously, and is now in the House, with Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) as the chief sponsor.

School Cod—Renewable Energy Grants House Bill (HB) 285—Rep. Jerry Mitchell (R-Rock Falls): This bill requires the State Board of Education to establish and operate a renewable energy grant program to assist school districts in the installation, acquisition, construction, and improvement of renewable energy sources in the public schools. HB 285 passed the House unanimously and is sponsored in the Senate by Sens, Michael Noland (D-Elgin) and Todd Sieben (R-Geneseo).

Affordable and Clean Energy Standards (ACES) Act SB 1184—Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park): This bill calls for measurable percentages of renewable energy and energy efficiency actions by gas and electric utility companies and provides penalties for failure to meet the goals. It also calls for statewide residential building codes, particularly in energy efficiency. SB 1184 has passed out of the Environment and Energy Committee, has 20 co-sponsors and will be voted in the Senate after the recess, which ended April 17 and 18th.

Other legislation is HB 1871 (Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Des Plaines), which requires utilities to report on the acquisition of renewable energy resources and allows them to enter into long-term contracts and competitive solicitations for the same; HB 1011 (Rep. Naomi Jakobsson (D-Champaign) a net metering bill that was passed out of the House and has Senate sponsorship; and HB 380—a proposal for statewide Property Tax Valuation of wind farms by Rep. Frank J. Mautino – (D-Spring Valley).

A number of other bills impacting renewable energy are considered to have little chance of passage. For one of them, I hope that’s not true. HB 208 (Rep. Carolyn Krause (R-Mt. Prospect) calls for a State Renewable Energy Tax Credit of 20 percent up to $1,500, for the installation of solar, wind or geothermal systems. It is allegedly being buried because of general hostility toward tax credits in constrained budgetary times. This type of tax credit would actually leverage more tax revenue in Illinois by encouraging payroll and business development, as well as use federal tax credits, which are subject to Illinois income tax.

On another front, the Illinois Commerce Commission is holding a series of workshops to consider having statewide interconnection standards for solar, wind and other forms of renewable and distributive energy. The first one was held in Chicago April 4th, and the next two were in Springfield April 18th and back in Chicago May 2nd. For more information, contact Bradley Klein at the Midwest Environmental Law and Policy Center at

I was pleased to see both Democrats and Republicans throughout our state working on effective solutions to bring solar, wind and other forms of clean power into our energy mainstream. My hope is that the immediate concern of electricity rates does not cause our leaders into making decisions that may be expedient in the short run, but damaging to us and our economy and environment in the long run. To follow the legislation, and let the lawmakers know what you’re thinking, follow the action on the very timely Illinois General Assembly web site at

Mark Burger is president of the Illinois Solar Energy Association, a chapter of the American Solar Energy Society, and principal of Kestrel Development Company, a renewable energy consulting firm and developer of zero energy building.

from the May 2-8, 2007, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!