Clean energy quest facing more challenges

June 18, 2014

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

When we started the Illinois Renewable Energy Association, the route to a clean energy future appeared straightforward. It involved reducing our consumption of fossil fuels and transitioning to clean energy sources, including energy efficiency, renewable energy and geothermal energy, along with other environmentally beneficial actions. We focused on stimulating interest among home and small business owners in communities and rural areas.

On the state level, renewable energy standards were enacted to stimulate demand for renewable energy and energy efficiency. A state rebate program was created to offset some of the cost of the installations. The existence of net metering allowed the owners of installations to sell their excess electricity to the utility at nearly the same price as grid electricity. These funds came from a small tax from all existing customers of that utility.

As demand for electricity dropped as a result of the recession of 2008, successful energy efficiency programs, lower natural gas prices and renewable energy costs, utility earnings were adversely affected. In response to falling earnings, some utilities are claiming owners of renewable energy systems are forcing higher costs on other customers.

The solar industry has challenged the charge. They see installed systems as increasing the reliability of the grid, since solar provides power at the time of peak electrical demand and delays the need for costly utility upgrades. Since the marginal cost of pv production at peak times is without fuel costs, they actually lead to lower electrical prices for all the grid customers during peak power demand.

In Vermont, a recent study by the Public Service Department found no significant cost shift to other customers from their net metering program. A Minnesota Public Utility report calculated the value of solar power generated by customers at 14.5 cents per kilowatt, taking into account its value to the utility, society and the environment.

If solar systems are installed to meet local energy needs, less money flows out of the community, which can help to boost the local economy, similar to the way in which the local foods movement does.

The newly-announced U.S. EPA carbon reduction goals include the opportunity for Exelon to gain credit for the fact that its nuclear plants do not release carbon dioxide while producing power. Questions remain as to the impact such a change would have on customer costs and renewable energy and efficiency programs.

As owners of a solar and small wind system, our latest electric bill from Commonwealth Edison indicated our electrical costs were only $19.30, while additional charges increased the total bill to $47.02. Some of the additional costs go for grid service, including that of upgrading and extending the grid to sell power to distant markets.

As grid service costs continue to rise, the benefits of local power production become more appealing. John Farrell of the Institute for Self Reliance will clarify the economic and environmental benefits of local power at this year’s annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, set for Aug. 23 and 24 at Ogle County Fairgrounds, 1440 N. Limekiln Road, Oregon, Ill.

The major sponsor of the fair is the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.

We are still accepting speakers and exhibitors: irea.org@gmail.com or sonia.vogl@gmail.com.

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 June 18-24, 2014, issue

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