Will legislation accelerate or delay the energy revolution?

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

We witnessed crippling of the early stages of the energy revolution during the 1980s. Technological advancements and cost reductions since then and growing global concerns regarding climate change suggest the transition is unlikely to be stopped, but a determined national effort is underway to slow the transition. A 2012 report from the Edison Electric Institute, Disruptive Challenges, identified rooftop solar as being a disrupter to the existing utility business model and suggested utilities make a determined effort to stop this customer driven competition (Amy Heart, director of public policy for the company SunRun).

For the last 15 years a combination of utility, state and federal policies have contributed to the growth of renewable energy and efficiency in Illinois but recent legislative proposals from Exelon and ComEd are seen by renewable energy and consumer advocates as having the potential to slow the transition at a time when technological advancements and ongoing price reductions in renewable energy systems, efficiency, battery storage and electric vehicles have dramatically improved their market acceptance.

Faced with multiple proposals from the various parties seeking to have their interests included in new energy legislation, legislators have called on them to resolve their differences and send a unified bill for legislative consideration.

The contested issues include whether to bail out Exelon’s nuclear plants in the Quad Cities and Clinton to keep them operating; fixing the renewable energy portfolio standard in which available funds for renewable energy projects are not being used; requiring utilities to meet their renewable energy obligations by financing them in Illinois; replacing selling electric power at an average fixed price per kilowatt hour to a demand charge based on a customer’s single highest 30 minute period of energy use each month; the level of utility sponsored energy efficiency investments; eliminating net metering; and installing inverters for solar systems which would allow ComEd to control the amount of solar generated electricity sent to the utility.

For some critics the legislative approach to energy reform in Illinois is so complex that it should be addressed through the Illinois Commerce Commission where evidence is submitted by competing energy experts and stakeholders and reviewed by the Commission to assess its implications and fairness to all interests involved. Of particular concern is that switching to peak demand charges from fixed charges per kWh is without research or pilot studies to provide data to assess its potential impacts, particularly on elderly and low-income customers (Kari Lydersen, In Illinois energy bill drama, demand charge is central and evolving, citing Amy Heart).

However, the policy issues are being addressed through legislation. Some renewable energy advocates believe the changes in energy policies advocated by ComEd and Exelon are seen as adding unpredictability to customers’ energy bills in an attempt to slow down the transition to a cleaner, more energy efficient system. ComEd and Exelon claim the changes are in the interests of its customers.

Advocates believe the switch to demand charges and ending net metering could slow the speed of the solar transition. They have called on concerned citizens to make their views known to their state representatives, local political leaders and the general public via letters to the editors. A full overview of the interests and issues in the pending legislation can be found in the article by Kari Lydersen. The legislation will be addressed in November.

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