Future energy directions for northern Illinois

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

When the Byron Nuclear Generating Station was under construction, critics — including Amory Lovins — indicated it would be more cost-effective to fund energy conservation programs than add to our power supply.

Lovins advised the town of Osage, Iowa, to implement a community-wide energy efficiency program rather than replace their peak power capacity with new natural gas generators.

To create support for the program, an aerial infrared survey of the town documented the heat lost from their buildings. The evidence stimulated public support for a community energy efficiency program.

The program required new construction and major building renovations to use 2-by-6 construction to provide more insulation space. Ten-thousand compact fluorescent light bulbs were purchased at bulk discount and given to citizens to cut electrical consumption. New construction was analyzed with an infrared camera to ensure buildings were properly insulated.

A study done for the Illinois Commerce Commission during the time Byron was under construction indicated that cost-effective energy efficiency for most schools, hospitals, fast-food franchises and some businesses and industries would come from natural gas co-generation units. Many were installed, but utility incentives were sufficient for some of them to serve exclusively for peak generating capacity.

Government funding, tax credits, and research and development programs have combined to provide cost-effective, dependable energy alternatives, including energy efficiency and conservation, solar and wind, LEDs and electric cars. Installed capacity of wind farms in the United States is equivalent to 10 large Byron-size nuclear power plants. Their costs continue to drop because of an increase in generator capacity, large-scale manufacturing and longer operating life.

A Freedom Field project involves a refurbished Danish wind generator installed at an Ogle County school. Two others are available for sale through Rock Wind, LLC.

The costs of solar electric systems have dropped dramatically. Some homeowners have installations of 10 to 15 kilowatts. The airport project in Rockford is 3.1 megawatts and is expected to continue to grow. Despite an oversupply of solar panels, manufacturers expect to increase production capacity to meet future demand.

The federal Sunshot program is targeted at cutting non-hardware costs of installation. In Germany, that cost is less than half of that in the U.S.

The time is ripe to install a PV system. The 30 percent federal tax credit remains in place until 2016. Panels are warrantied for 25 to 30 years and inverters for 10 years. Numerous large flat-roofed buildings or extensive parking lots could accommodate PV. Perhaps we need to call big-box stores and ask when they will be powered by solar electricity.

Reasonably-priced LED lights have made a dramatic entry into saving electricity. From 2009 through 2012, LED installations have increased 50 times to more than 20 million.

Electric cars have made a dramatic entry into the marketplace with more than 50,000 plug-in vehicles in use in 2012. Public recharging stations are needed now. The Rock River Trail Initiative seeks assistance for funding stations along the entire Rock River Trail.

Local food programs have proven successful. We need to expand them to raise fish and vegetables in abandoned factories for local markets, thus saving money and energy. Similar efforts are needed to make local communities more energy efficient. Appropriate, supportive public policies and adequate funding are needed to advance clean-energy services. See citizensutilityboard.org for available federal, state and utility programs.

From the Dec. 11-17, 2013, issue

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