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Increasing solar power in Illinois

July 9, 2014

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

New state legislation requires the Illinois Power Agency (IPA) to buy up to $30 million in electricity from clean energy sources, primarily solar. The IPA was established to buy renewable energy for utilities to supply the grid. The money comes from fees paid by electrical suppliers to the agency’s Renewable Energy Resources Fund. The fund has accumulated $54 million, with an additional $80 million to be added by fall of this year.

The agency had been unable to spend the funds as a result of a statutory provision. The money could only be spent when power was purchased by Commonwealth Edison and Ameren Illinois customers. When their former customers switched to alternative suppliers, the utilities had no need to purchase more power.

ComEd is a unit of Exelon, which supported the legislation authorizing the purchase of solar energy. Although wind and solar power compete with nuclear power, Exelon’s support is likely to benefit the firm’s desire for compensation for its nuclear power units. Since nuclear power plants do not emit carbon, they could be included in the new EPA regulations requiring carbon reductions.

The IPA has discretion as to how the funds are distributed. Solar advocates believe the majority should go to solar-electric rooftop installations. Such installations range from residential to big retailers and other commercial interests. Some estimates suggest that 5,000 homes could have systems installed.

In an article by Steve Daniels, SoCore, based in Chicago, expects that its revenues from installations in Illinois would grow from 4 percent in previous years to 20 percent with the increased solar opportunity. According to the firm, it already has working relationships with IKEA, J.C. Penney, Target and Walmart.

With the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) releasing new regulations requiring a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gases from 2005 levels from power plants, solar is expected to be an important beneficiary of changes. The new regulations would also cut particulate pollution, nitrous oxides and sulfur dioxide by up to 25 percent, while improving public health. Through increasing energy efficiency and reducing energy demand, electric bills are predicted to shrink by 8 percent.

According to CleanTechnica, the fastest-growing portion of utility power generation in 2014 is natural gas, which accounts for 46 percent of all new installations, followed by solar at 29 percent and wind at 22 percent. The growth of natural gas has been driven by the fracking process, which has given rise to environmental concerns, including methane releases, which contribute to climate change.

In a recent article by Andrew Nikiforuk, last year’s Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair keynote speaker, a growing number of energy experts see the shale revolution as temporarily increasing North American oil and gas production. He cites energy expert David Hughes that we would be well advised to plan our energy future in the absence of a fossil fuel bonanza from shale.

The stage is set for a dramatic increase in the use of solar electricity in Illinois. While it is a welcome addition to our energy supplies, there are other essential changes needed to move us toward a sustainable future. Many of these other considerations will be a part of this year’s Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. For example, Dirk Dypold will explain the benefits of geothermal energy.

Major sponsors of the fair are the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, The Rock River Times and Ogle County Solid Waste Management Department.

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 July 9-15, 2014, issue

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