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Environmental Law and Policy Center a powerful voice on energy issues

September 28, 2011

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

In 2001, the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) released its report, “Repowering the Midwest,” calling for energy reforms, including the promotion of “sustainable energy strategies by developing clean energy efficiency and renewable energy resources while reducing pollution from coal and nuclear plants that harms our environment and public health … and advocate sound environmental management practices that preserve natural resources and improve the quality of life in our communities.”

At this year’s Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, which was Aug. 13-14, Sarah Wochos of the ELPC updated us on “Energy Policy and Politics in Illinois.” She reminded us of the significant change that occurred when Illinois was deregulated in 1997. The old practice of public utilities both producing and distributing power ended. Now, separately-owned companies produce power and compete to sell it for distribution in Illinois.

However, the current economic downturn has reduced the need for new sources of electrical supply, and only a limited amount of renewable energy is being developed.

In the 1990s, advocates for renewables pushed for state rebates and net metering, which supported local energy production. As small systems on schools, homes and businesses were installed, they were portrayed as insufficient to meet the desired levels of clean energy sources.

The focus shifted to advocating the development of Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards, which created a market for large-scale projects of wind and solar farms. The initial Renewable Energy Portfolio called for 2 percent of electrical energy production in Illinois to come from renewables in 2008 and 25 percent by 2025.

According to Wochos, Illinois now has 2,000 MW of wind power, which has produced 6,000 jobs and $3 billion in economic development. Chicago is home to 13 national and international wind energy companies. Hundreds of firms have benefited from being part of the supply chain for the wind industry.

Renewable energy efforts have also run into some problems. Since power prices have been declining recently, policy makers, legislators and government officials do not want to be locked into long-term contracts that might hurt the state’s economic competitiveness. Following similar reasoning, the Illinois Power Authority authorizes annual purchases of electricity from low-cost producers including those outside of Illinois so competition from sources in Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin is keen.

Banks are unwilling to fund projects — whether wind, biomass, geothermal or solar — if a developer is without a long-term contract. They expect a guaranteed income stream over the project’s 20-year life.

In addition to financing problems, wind farm advocates have run into increasing public resistance to their presence from areas targeted for them.

A solar carve-out in the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard assures that 700 to 750 MW of electricity in Illinois will be provided by solar power. Its presence offers an opportunity to serve distributive needs, as opposed to feeding directly into the grid, as do wind and solar farms.

Such installations primarily serve local demand, involve less line loss, provide power at times of peak demand, benefit homeowners and small businesses, and avoid the controversies associated with wind farms.

Public support will be essential for successful implementation of a distributive energy program. The ELPC once again expects to play a key role in the process.

According to Wayne Hartel of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity: “The Solar and Wind Rebate Program is no longer accepting applications. Due to the overwhelming response of applications that the department has received since the program opened on Sept. 9, the program has reached capacity. The department will no longer accept applications at this time for this fiscal year’s program. The program will not reopen until after July 1, 2012. The department is greatly encouraged by the interest in solar and wind generation systems within the state.”

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the Sept. 28-Oct. 4, 2011, issue

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