By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association
Doug Scott, director of the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), spoke at the Winnebago Renewable Energy Expo Nov. 8 at Klehm Arboretum about the ICC’s role as a judge in balancing public interest and private profits.
The ICC’s original responsibilities began with the regulation of railroads within the state. In many areas, its responsibilities have grown, but in terms of electric utilities, its role has diminished with utility deregulation.
ICC still has responsibilities for energy efficiency and renewable energy. Illinois has standards for both; the ICC is ramping up programs to reach both. Advisory groups on particular issues provide ideas about how programs can work better and move beyond merely encouraging people to use more energy-efficient light bulbs.
Funds available for energy efficiency programs are limited by a spending cap, which ICC is hoping to change. Energy efficiency requires upfront spending, but the initial investment is recaptured over time. The question is one of making funds available for those choices that have the greatest impact on saving energy. An example is a program piloted by the Center for Neighborhood Technology that focused on raising energy efficiency for multifamily buildings.
Illinois has a substantial amount of installed wind generation, and in 2012 was one of the top five states in the nation in generating capacity. Continued interest in building wind farms within the state is expected, provided the federal production tax credit is extended.
Renewables will have a larger role in our energy future in response to concerns about climate change. Responses to addressing the issue include mitigation or reducing the release of carbon dioxide, adapting to the impacts of climate change, international aspects as it is a global issue, and innovation — for example, the Future Gen Project.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new limits on carbon emissions will impact coal electric-generating facilities. If states have flexibility in addressing the new rules, renewable energy and energy efficiency programs should benefit. Efforts at retrofitting existing coal plants to sequester carbon should also draw more interest.
Other innovations are the smart grid and smart meters, which will allow energy transmission companies to know where the power failed, rather than relying on calls from customers without power as well as voluntary switching of electrical consumption to nighttime at lower costs. Installing smart meters has begun in the western suburbs; in a decade, they should cover the state.
Increased production of wind energy at night has adversely affected the economics of operating nuclear power plants at night. While not included in Scott’s presentation, Exelon has announced the need of a rate increase, or the nuclear power plant near the Quad Cities will be forced to close.
Low-cost natural gas from fracking undermines the economic competitiveness of other energy sources. Cheap natural gas has compounded the economic problems of nuclear power plants. However, it is beneficial to renewable energy, as gas-fired plants can be integrated with renewables to provide continuous electrical production.
Scott warned against over-dependence on natural gas because of the historic volatility of its prices.
This is our interpretation of Doug Scott’s presentation.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Nov. 27-Dec. 3, 2013, issue