Illinois’ uncertain energy future

By Robert and Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

In a recent interview with Kari Lydersen in Midwest Energy News, John Rowe, former CEO of Exelon, talked about the future of energy in Illinois. While not speaking for the firm, he declared new coal and new nuclear are not economical but wind and solar, while also not economical, will be subsidized. He envisions an energy future of gas, wind and solar driven more by politics than markets. If left to markets it would primarily rely on natural gas.

The expression that our energy future will be more driven by politics than markets is strange: politics has always played a major role in providing energy supplies. The dramatic drop in price of natural gas was driven by the political decision to exempt the process from government regulations along with low interest rates from government policies.

Rowe advocates keeping all existing nuclear plants in operation through their design life declaring it is cheaper to keep them operating than to add more wind and solar energy.

He also calls attention to two unknowns in our energy future: How much of the future supplies will be distributed and whether energy efficiency will continue to virtually eliminate load growth.

He sees the right to sell solar power back to the grid when produced in excess as using the grid “on the cheap.” As solar production expands at some point net metering is no longer affordable as additional funds will be needed to maintain the grid.

A new report from Environment America claims that solar energy systems provide more value to the grid and society than solar producers are paid under net metering. A study released by the Maine utility commission values distributed solar at $0.33/kilowatt-hour while it is only compensated at the residential rate of $0.13/kwh. A utility report declares utility solar as less costly than small scale residential solar. However, critics point out that residential systems use power where it is produced while utility scale solar requires access to costly high voltage transmission lines to bring it to consumers.

The debate continues over who is subsidizing whom with net metering. Yet distributed solar electricity is growing at a rate of 50 percent per year and is likely to continue to grow as prices continue to fall.

This year’ s Renewable Energy and Sustainability Fair will again emphasize solar energy. Several booth exhibits including Advanced Energy Solutions, G-G Solar Electric, Habi-Tek, Heavenly Winds, The Root Cellar and SunAir Systems, will feature solar power. Workshops focusing on solar include Aur Beck’s Approved solar installation-finally, Willem Dijstelbergen’s Energy independence through alternative energy, Beck and Alway’s Living off grid, really? Dave Merril’s Mid-sized solar projects, Len Salvig’s Renewable energy for rural America and Bob Croteau’s Solar sunflower.

With energy storage a crucial factor in the expansion of renewable energy, decreasing the cost of batteries and extending their useful service life is a major concern.  At this year’s Fair Jeff Green will update us with Amazing batteries in our future.

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

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