Energy Efficiency

The Plain Dealer: Energy Efficiency was Projected to Cut Electric Consumption, Power Companies told the State

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Ohio’s electric companies were on course to help their customers cut overall power use by as much as 33 percent in coming years before lawmakers froze state energy efficiency mandates.

Filed and forgotten at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, the analyses and projections were drawn up by FirstEnergy, AEP Ohio, Duke Energy and Dayton Power & Light.

The 33 percent savings figure was based on the assumption that costs would not stand in the way of higher efficiency. But a more conservative estimate, looking only at solutions deemed to be cost effective, still put potential savings at 24 percent.

Despite those internal estimates of cost-effective savings, the industry lobbied against the efficiency mandates for years. Last year year, lawmakers led by Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, froze the program; Seitz said it was supported by “enviro-socialists.”

Now, a nationally recognized group that advocates energy efficiency has taken another look at the utility reports in the PUCO’s files.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, or ACEEE, Wednesday issued its own report, a white paper making the case for a return of the state standards, based on those utility projections.

The four companies were asked to figure out how much power their efficiency programs could help customers save over 10 to 20 years.

Each utility projected the savings in at least two ways — maximum achievable, without consideration of the cost of the programs, and what could be achieved with “cost effective” programs, meaning the savings in using less electricity would be greater than the costs of the programs.

The reports were available to the public and mentioned at times by efficiency advocates in testimony to state lawmakers who wanted to kill the efficiency programs. The utilities never testified.

But lawmakers either ignored or dismissed references to the utility studies during the months of hearings before approving S.B. 310, the legislation that has frozen Ohio’s efficiency mandates for two years.

While the new analysis is the work of analysts employed by the ACEEE, which is a non-profit, funding for the report came in part from the Environmental Law and Policy Center and Natural Resources Defense Council, two groups that argued for keeping the mandates. Both opposed the freeze.

The ACEEE paper concludes “there is huge potential in Ohio to save families and businesses money on their utility bills through energy saving programs.”

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Press Release: New Analysis Shows Big Savings for Ohio with Energy Efficiency

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 26, 2015

Analysis: Significant Energy Efficiency Savings Available to Ohioans for Years to Come

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A new analysis finds huge potential in Ohio to save families and businesses money on their utility bills through energy saving programs. This study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), which examines reports from Ohio utilities as well as industry-standard programs that Ohio has yet to take into account, concludes the state has significant, cost-effective, and untapped energy efficiency potential just waiting to be utilized.

Ohio’s four major electric utilities-AEP, Dayton Power & Light, Duke Energy, and FirstEnergy-are seeking ways to reduce their energy consumption 22.2% by 2027. These utilities have been running wildly successful energy efficiency programs for homes and businesses since at least 2010, saving Ohioans over $1 billion on their energy bills and delivering customers a 2:1 return on their investment. ACEEE concludes Ohio’s utilities will be able to continue to meet these energy efficiency goals through cost-effective programs that provide tremendous benefits for customers.

Beyond the significant untapped savings Ohio’s utilities could be capturing, the ACEEE report finds that the state has not even scratched the surface of the benefits available to Ohioans over the long term. These include currently available and cost-effective programs like LED lighting, multi-family housing retrofits, combined heat and power projects, and low-interest financing opportunities.

The report also finds increased potential for emerging technologies-potential that Ohio has yet to capture. Technologies such as smart thermostats and advanced clothes dryers can give customers more choice on how they use energy and help save money. With the clean energy industry evolving at a rapid pace, innovation in energy efficiency has also come faster than expected, in some cases with rapidly falling prices. For example, the price of LED lighting has decreased over 85% in the last five years.

“Innovation in energy-efficient products and services creates enormous opportunities for cost-effective energy savings, and helps customers make smarter choices about how they use energy,” said Maggie Molina, utilities, state, and local policy director at ACEEE. “Thankfully for Ohio, utilities recognize some of the opportunities to capture these emerging technologies and will be able to help their customers save money over the coming years.”

Molina continued, “Our report finds even more ground can be covered at low cost in areas where Ohio could see benefits immediately, like multifamily housing and LEDs, and in technologies such as ‘smart’ thermostats that are just now emerging.”

When utilities run better and more innovative programs that target a wide range of consumers, they add to Ohio’s growing clean energy economy. For example, AEP estimated that its energy efficiency programs will create 4,000 jobs over the next few years. And that’s just one of four major utilities that run programs in the state.

Energy efficiency companies in Ohio see this potential first hand.

According to Greg Smith, President and CEO of Energy Optimizers, USA in Tipp City, Ohio, which retrofits schools and other government buildings across the state, “We’re only hitting the tip of the iceberg in Ohio with how much we can improve the efficiency of homes and businesses, along with commercial and industrial facilities. In the last few years, my business has taken off as we continue to rapidly expand our team. We’ve grown from a true start-up to a $14,000,000 a year company. We have smart people from right here in Ohio who we want to put to work immediately. It’s that simple-we just need the right ingredients and investments to make it happen.”

Unfortunately, the future of these programs is in jeopardy.

Just as energy efficiency and renewable policies were taking off following the 2008 enactment of SB 221<http://archives.legislature.state.oh.us/bills.cfm?ID=127_SB_221>, Ohio passed SB 310<http://archives.legislature.state.oh.us/bills.cfm?ID=130_SB_310>, which froze these policies at their 2014 levels and pushed back the deadline to meet the 22.2% energy efficiency target by two years. A committee was established to examine the clean energy policies and determine their fate, which remains uncertain.

“Across Ohio, residential, business, and industrial customers are saving money because of utility energy efficiency programs,” said Madeline Fleisher, staff attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “As technologies advance, these opportunities are growing, but achieving this potential will require strong programs that are available to all utility customers. Continuing these programs will position Ohio as a leader in the clean energy sector, providing lower customer bills, creating sustainable jobs, and cutting pollution.”

The committee is set to release a report in September and may make recommendations on the future of Ohio’s energy landscape, including whether these cost-saving programs will continue to exist.

According to Samantha Williams, energy policy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, “Energy efficiency efforts in Ohio still have plenty of fruit to bear. Luckily Ohioans are still craving ways to save money by lowering their energy use, which brings all kinds of benefits like cleaner air and more jobs to the state. This report adds to the mounting evidence, and hopefully the committee will come to the same conclusion ACEEE did-that these programs are integral to low-cost power and will continue to reap benefits for Ohioans today and tomorrow.”

A link to the full ACEEE report can be found here: http://aceee.org/white-paper/ohio-potential

 

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WBBM Radio: Democrats Join Business, Environmental Leaders In Push For President Obama’s Clean Power Plan

Congress members are joining business, religious and environmental leaders in pushing for President Barack Obama’s “Clean Power Plan,” reports WBBM Political Editor Craig Dellimore.

Congressman Bobby Rush says President Obama’s plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants will not only mean cleaner air but cleaner and greener jobs as well and low income areas need them.

But fellow Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley says passing the bill is no easy matter.

“Unfortunately, climate change remains a partisan issue in Congress,” Quigley said. “I work side-by-side with members who don’t believe in evolution, who believe that dinosaurs were figments of our imagination.”

Patrick Woodson with E.On Renewable Energy says climate change is real and so is the need for a companion Illinois clean jobs bill.

“That legislation could double the actual install capacity here in Illinois, creating both an environmental and an economic benefit for the state,” Woodson said.

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Argus Leader: Clean power plan to ripple through South Dakota

President Barack Obama’s plan to cut carbon emissions by 32 percent over the next 15 years has energy cooperatives and South Dakota officials talking about higher energy costs and federal government overreach, but clean energy advocates see the plan as an immense opportunity.

Obama’s finalized Clean Power Plan, unveiled Monday after a yearlong comment period, would force states to cut emissions through a combination of clean energy and energy efficiency, allowing states to define how to hit the mark.

Some energy companies operating in the state are pleased with alterations to the way carbon is calculated, which gives South Dakota more flexibility.

The initial plan based South Dakota’s targets on one coal-fired and one natural gas plant, but Otter Tail Power representative Cris Oehler says the methodology was reworked to reflect the state’s other power sources.

“It also adjusts carbon dioxide baselines upwards for states with abundant hydropower, and South Dakota is one of these states,” Oehler said.

The state should be able to meet its goals by 2030, Oehler said, but there could be pain in the interim. It’s too early to say what the future of the Big Stone coal plant will be under the plan, she said.

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E&E: Former Exelon CEO Rowe: Shutting down struggling nukes is ‘the proper market-driven answer’

CHICAGO — Even three years removed from running Exelon Corp., John Rowe is still among the few people who needs no name badge or introduction at electric industry events.
Rowe, who grew up on a Wisconsin farm and attended a one-room schoolhouse, spent more than three decades as a utility chief executive. He’s best known for taking over troubled Commonwealth Edison Co. in the late 1990s and overseeing the transformation into Exelon, the nation’s largest utility owner and operator of the largest fleet of nuclear plants.

The former executive still lives in Chicago and keeps the title of chairman emeritus at Exelon, but is pursuing a different passion these days — education. He teaches a high school history class at a Chicago-area charter school that he co-founded. However, he hasn’t given up his fondness for nuclear power and free markets and his belief in a carbon tax to help combat climate change.

The former Exelon CEO sat down with EnergyWire last week during the Energy Thought Summit in Chicago to discuss the state of the nuclear industry, U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan and other changes confronting the utility industry. What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation.

EnergyWire: Why are certain nuclear plants having trouble competing right now? Is it just natural gas and wind?

Rowe: Yeah, wind and gas and energy efficiency. The combination of the recession and energy efficiency — and no one knows the percentages — has caused demand for electricity to stay below ’07 levels through today and probably for another seven or eight years in the Northeast. In a supply-and-demand market, reduced demand hurts. That’s the first factor. The second factor is much of the time a nuclear plant is competing against natural gas in the market, so cheap gas really hurts. The third factor is the subsidized wind — which you really pay for, and it runs whether it’s economic or not — that hurts. The wind really annoys utility people because it runs at night. At night, you have more than enough electricity, and wind just ruins the price.

EW: It has been said that preserving existing nuclear plants is key to helping the U.S. achieve climate goals. So, what’s the right policy solution to keep existing nuclear viable, such as the three Exelon plants in Illinois that are said to be losing money?

Rowe: I’m living in a fairy world because I don’t have the numbers and I’m not responsible for them anymore. But in my opinion, you shut those three plants down. You say they have become uneconomic just like some old coal plants are uneconomic. And in a world that’s driven by unfriendly market prices and unfriendly public policy, you shut them down. That’s what I think the answer is, which is a setback for our low-carbon goals and a setback for the high-paying industrial jobs that people want to keep. But it is the proper market-driven answer.

EW: That would be unpopular with your former colleagues.

Rowe: I don’t know. I can ask, but I don’t want to ask. They have to figure this out for themselves. I love nuclear power plants. For [current Exelon CEO] Chris Crane, it’s his life. He would probably go further to keep a plant running than I would go. I don’t believe there’s anything divine about markets, but I believe they’re pretty important. Chris has only seen the sour side of the markets. I don’t believe you can run a good utility letting public policy push you toward something but not pay you for it.

In some ways, I believe the only way a utility has credibility in saying that something isn’t making any money is if it’s actually willing to shut it down. If I were there, I think I’d have shut the New Jersey plant [Oyster Creek] down first. It’s the oldest, it’s the smallest, and it would have given credibility to what Exelon is saying about the other four. Nuclear power plants have been shut down before around the country. Am I saying that’s the desirable answer? No, I’m not. What I’m saying is if the real reason to keep them running is a public policy reason, then the public has to help bear the cost of doing that.

EW: What do you think about the way EPA treats nuclear power in the Clean Power Plan draft rule?

Rowe: I think EPA is right in pursuing a low-carbon world. I think they’re complying with the law. I think they’re doing their best, but they have very crude tools. The Clean Air Act is not an adequate tool for this. We needed a carbon tax or cap and trade. We still do. We won’t be rational until we have one, and we may never have one. But short of that, I don’t think it’s EPA’s job to encourage a new nuclear world. I think that would be one of the most expensive solutions it could pursue. I think its job is to pursue a low-carbon world at the lowest possible cost. And that would mean preserving the existing plants but not building new ones.

EW: What do you see as the outcome if the EPA Clean Power Plan rule is promulgated as it was proposed?

Rowe: It’s not going to be a national disaster. Period. At the same time, it’s not going to have optimal or efficient results. Because they just don’t have the tools. I have suggested to several people, including NRDC [Natural Resources Defense Council] and a couple of [Illinois] Gov. [Bruce] Rauner’s people that I think the Illinois means for compliance ought to be a carbon tax. I don’t think he’s going to buy it, but I made the suggestion. I do know that trying to do it by piecemeal reductions will be very expensive.

EW: So you think the rule should be written to help existing nuclear plants that are struggling?

Rowe: We’re writing rules all the time to help wind and solar. One of my old friends in the utility industry said a long time ago that renewable standards were like Gresham’s law: Its bad power drives out good power. Needless to say, the environmental groups would say Gresham’s law worked the other way, but the point is still the same.

EW: Well, your successor at Exelon took a lot of heat for his views on the PTC [production tax credit] and wind.

Rowe: I agree with his position, but I have the thought that as a nuclear company, environmental support was so important to Exelon that I would have tried harder to work something out with them, I think. But he had a different problem to deal with than I had during my years, so judge not.

EW: When you were running the company, did you see the wind build-out being a real threat to the economic competitiveness of nuclear?

Rowe: Yes. What we didn’t see, even as late as ’08, we just didn’t see what shale gas was going to do to gas prices. Some of our downside scenarios were at $4 gas. We did not see below $3 gas. … Boone Pickens, who does not always tell the whole truth, told Rahm Emanuel about shale gas before my own fuel people told me about it. I shouldn’t learn things like that from the president’s chief of staff. I have a wound on my neck from that one. There were a few people that saw it, but unfortunately it wasn’t the prevailing view.

EW: You made a comment during your presentation: “Utilities are good at saying no and good at saying yes and not doing anything.” Can you explain?

Rowe: You have to have regulatory systems that give them a chance to profit from doing it. They need to have an upside like everybody else. It’s not that a utility is going to turn into a Google. You can attach wings to an ox, but it still won’t fly very well. You can’t make a utility do everything as a public service duty and expect it to be imaginative and creative about it. Give it some incentive and all the sudden you change the quality of people they put on it.

We found back at New England Electric, when we got an incentive that basically gave us 10 percent of savings calculated by environmental groups and 1 percent of gross on energy efficiency programs, overnight they became the most profitable work the utility did. The person I put on it was Cheryl LaFleur, who has just been chairman of the FERC. I put that level of talent on it because it was not only public service, but because it was profitable work.

EW: When did you first begin advocating for a carbon market?

Rowe: I believe it was ’92, and that was at New England Electric, which was mostly a coal-burning utility.

EW: But the science then wasn’t as undisputed as it is now.

Rowe: Correct, but it was getting pretty strong. If you paid attention to those kind of people, which I always did. I think it’s almost overwhelming now. My Republican friends disagree with that. The reason the Republicans disagree with it is because they don’t enjoy the consequences. There’s a whole strand of the environmental movement that would really like to have us in an English garden driving those bicycles with those little flower baskets. That isn’t how Republicans see the world. Ninety percent of the climate scientists are would-be socialists. It’s not too shocking that even if you respect their vast analytical ability, a conservative is skeptical of some of their science when the science leads to an end state that they want and you don’t.

John Holdren, the president’s science adviser, is a friend. And he and I want very different worlds. But he’s still a friend, and he knows far more about this than I ever will. And I believe him. But once you believe it’s a real problem, if you believe in things like property and markets, then you want to identify a solution that is the most policy neutral that you can. Carbon taxes do that. Cap and trade does that. Renewable standards don’t. At the same time, Congress was rejecting Waxman-Markey at a $25 cap, California was adopting renewable standards with an estimated cost of $180 a ton. We just threw money at these preferred things. It’s like saying, “Oh, there’s a tree, let’s pick the apples from the top of the tree first.”

EW: How would a carbon tax, a market-based approach, have changed the generation portfolio? How would it be different now?

Rowe: If we had adopted a cap and trade or carbon tax, and if you had a ratcheted cap on the carbon price, a lot of the thing is how the carbon price grows. $25 or $10 or $15 won’t change it that much tomorrow, but it will change every investment decision going forward , and particularly if you have to include in your cost model the fact that you’ve got a carbon price that’s ratcheting at the general rate of inflation. You don’t put any more money into coal plants. And you try to burn natural gas as quickly as you can. I think with a carbon tax you’d see a faster move to more natural gas in the supply system. I don’t think it would be big enough to accelerate the renewables. But it would accelerate the coal conversion.

 

Progress Illinois: Chicago High Schoolers Rally For Climate Action, Illinois Clean Jobs Bill (VIDEO)

Chicago high schoolers held a climate action rally at the Thompson Center late Thursday afternoon to show their support for the Illinois Clean Jobs bill. The pending legislation is designed to strengthen statewide standards around energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Maria Sanchez, a Northside College Prep junior, was one of about a dozen students from various Chicago high schools at the rally.

“We think the clean energy jobs bill is something that will benefit our communities,” she said. “In general, clean energy is the future, and if Illinois is able to become a leader in that, it’s a step in the right direction.”

Sanchez said it is important for young people to get organized around climate issues.

“Climate change knows no boundaries, no language, no race. It affects everyone,” she said. “We think that youth have been the driving force of many different movements, and this is no exception. Taking climate action, especially now, is important, because we are going to be affected by the effects of not taking climate action.”

Here’s more from the rally, including comments from Quincy Hirt, a sophomore at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School:

WBEZ: Chicago youth organize rally for climate change

Chicago Public School students from all over the city organized Thursday at the Thompson Center to send a message to Illinois lawmakers about climate change. But before the rally kicked off, we spoke to two youth activists: Eve Robinson is a student at Whitney Young, and Maria Sanchez is from Northside College Prep.

Post-Dispatch: Ameren Illinois customers could pay for Exelon’s nuclear plants

Ameren Illinois customers could pay more to keep three nuclear power plants outside of Southern Illinois profitable for Chicago-based Exelon Corp.

Illinois legislation backed by the nuclear power giant that also runs Chicago utility ComEd could add about $2 per month to the bills of utility customers — even Ameren Illinois customers who buy much of their power from coal power plants downstate.

The measure is one of several energy-related bills bouncing around Springfield as the legislative session winds to a close this month. Another bill, the so-called “Clean Jobs Bill,” is backed by a large coalition of clean-energy and efficiency advocates, and there’s also smart-meter legislation for the Chicago area and the possibility of new rules requiring power plants to use more Illinois coal.

Observers say a large energy package could come out of the Legislature before the end of the year, if not this session. A recent Illinois Supreme Court ruling invalidating a pension reform measure has lawmakers scrambling to plug a giant hole in the budget by the end of the month, but many expect an energy package to be negotiated during the fall veto session.

“It’s very typical when we have competing bills that they all will come together for a common resolution,” said Senate President Pro Tem Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, the chief sponsor of the Clean Jobs Bill.

The Exelon bill pending in Springfield would require the state’s utilities — ComEd in northern Illinois and Ameren Illinois downstate — to deliver 70 percent of their power from “low-carbon” sources. They could offset that cost with a surcharge on customer bills, capped at around 2 percent.

Exelon says its nuclear plants, which emit no carbon dioxide, would have to compete with other sources, such as wind and solar. The company argues that renewable energy prices are distorted by federal tax policies and other initiatives that have led to a boom in wind generation. Exelon warns it may close three nuclear power plants it says are no longer profitable.

“All we are seeking through this legislation is a level playing field where nuclear energy can compete on an equal footing with other forms of low carbon energy,” Exelon spokesman Paul Elsberg said.

But critics contend the bill is crafted to ensure Exelon has an edge over renewables and is essentially a subsidy now that its nuclear plants are struggling to compete with natural gas, wind and solar.

Exelon advocated for a deregulated electricity market in Illinois and reaped profits for years when power prices were higher, said David Kolata, head of Illinois utility customer advocacy group the Citizens Utility Board.

But now that prices are down, the company’s no longer interested in the open market and is pushing a bill that by CUB’s estimate would divert $300 million a year to the nuclear plant owner, he said.

“Exelon wants to have its cake and eat it too, and have proposed a situation where they win either way,” Kolata said. “They profited when natural gas prices were high. That’s how markets work. What Exelon seems to be saying is markets are great when prices are high but markets are bad when prices are low.”

Only one of the three plants Exelon says it may close is in Ameren Illinois territory — Exelon’s Clinton nuclear plant, 30 miles north of Decatur. While Ameren Illinois customers can buy power from plants outside the utility’s territory, a large portion of the downstate Illinois electricity comes from Houston-based Dynegy, which acquired Ameren’s Illinois coal plants.

But Exelon and some legislators warn that electricity prices across the state would rise and thousands of jobs would be lost if the plants shut down.

“These are benefits for everyone in the state,” Exelon’s Elsberg said. “These aren’t jobs only located at the plants. These plants are massive spenders on in-state businesses.”

An analysis from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity estimated that 7,000 jobs and labor income of $620 million would be lost if the three plants shut down.

But Dynegy, whose coal power plants would be disadvantaged by the law because of their carbon emissions, said Southern Illinois customers would see little benefit from paying more to make sure Exelon’s plants keep operating.

“We believe it is a bailout if they give it to them,” said Dynegy spokesman Micah Hirschfield. “You have downstate and Southern Illinois customers paying for a problem that is northern Illinois in nature.”

An analysis from northern Illinois grid operator PJM Interconnection estimated that if the Clinton plant closed, energy costs would rise between 1.2 percent and 2.7 percent in Southern Illinois. If the northern Illinois plants closed but Clinton didn’t, some scenarios actually predict a decrease in prices for downstate customers.

In ComEd’s territory, PJM found that any plant closure would lead to a price increase.

Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville and a sponsor of the Clean Jobs Bill, said the Exelon legislation appears to put too much of a burden on downstate customers, who won’t see as much of a benefit from keeping the plants open.

“I do understand that we need to make sure that these plants remain viable,” he said. “They’re important to our power grid. But I think whatever comes out of that needs to be more equitable to us.”

‘CLEAN JOBS’ PUSH

Kolata said the state should pursue the Clean Jobs Bill to offset any impact from a nuclear plant closure. The increase of energy efficiency alone could save consumers about $100 per year, he said.

“There’s likely to be a comprehensive energy bill at some point and we would hope the concepts in the Clean Jobs Bill would become law because that’s the best way to keep rates low,” he said.

The Clean Jobs Bill includes provisions that make it easier for residents to fund community solar projects and a fix for the state’s renewable energy credit market that environmental groups have long pushed for.

Advocates hope that will spur more renewable projects from companies hesitant to invest because of the flaw in the market, said Sarah Wochos, co-legislative director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center.

“If we lose another year, I think a lot of companies will look at Illinois and say it’s not worth our time,” she said.

Harmon, the Clean Jobs Bill sponsor, said the prospect of Exelon closing plants was “very worrisome” to those communities, but he said he thinks there “are better ways to address the situation than to simply subsidize a very profitable corporation.”

Before moving forward with a legislative response, Harmon said he wants to wait for an electricity price auction Exelon will participate in this summer to learn “about the true nature of Exelon’s situation.”

In the meantime, the Clean Jobs Bill is the only one that has the potential to lower electricity prices, he said.

“A clean energy infrastructure is going to be built in America, the only question is who gets to build it and who gets the jobs.”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Ameren Illinois customers could pay for Exelon’s nuclear plants

Ameren Illinois customers could pay more to keep three nuclear power plants outside of Southern Illinois profitable for Chicago-based Exelon Corp.

Illinois legislation backed by the nuclear power giant that also runs Chicago utility ComEd could add about $2 per month to the bills of utility customers — even Ameren Illinois customers who buy much of their power from coal power plants downstate.

The measure is one of several energy-related bills bouncing around Springfield as the legislative session winds to a close this month. Another bill, the so-called “Clean Jobs Bill,” is backed by a large coalition of clean-energy and efficiency advocates, and there’s also smart-meter legislation for the Chicago area and the possibility of new rules requiring power plants to use more Illinois coal.

Observers say a large energy package could come out of the Legislature before the end of the year, if not this session. A recent Illinois Supreme Court ruling invalidating a pension reform measure has lawmakers scrambling to plug a giant hole in the budget by the end of the month, but many expect an energy package to be negotiated during the fall veto session.

“It’s very typical when we have competing bills that they all will come together for a common resolution,” said Senate President Pro Tem Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, the chief sponsor of the Clean Jobs Bill.

The Exelon bill pending in Springfield would require the state’s utilities — ComEd in northern Illinois and Ameren Illinois downstate — to deliver 70 percent of their power from “low-carbon” sources. They could offset that cost with a surcharge on customer bills, capped at around 2 percent.

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ELPC’s Mindi Schmitz: N.D. lawmakers willfully ignored environmental issues

The following op-ed was published in the Grand Forks Herald Journal on May 13, 2015:

BISMARCK—The 64th Legislative Assembly of 2015 chose to blatantly disregard a persistent environmental problem facing North Dakota: the flaring of natural gas in the Bakken.

We are getting all of the pollution and none of the energy from a valuable natural resource.

A recent poll shows that North Dakotans want this embarrassing, wasteful flaring problem fixed ASAP.

The poll was commissioned by the Dakota Resource Council and the Dacotah Chapter of the Sierra Club and was conducted Feb. 18-March 6 by UND’s College of Business and Public Administration. And according to the poll, 64 percent of respondents think oil companies are flaring off more gas than they should, while 58 percent support withholding drilling permits until the oil company has in place the means to capture the gas.

Some 65 percent of respondents also support requiring royalty payments to mineral owners for wasted gas.

There were two bills introduced in the North Dakota Senate that dealt directly with the flaring of natural gas.

The first was SB 2287, a bill to amend the North Dakota Century Code by reducing the time a well is allowed to flare from one year down to 90 days. This would have made state law consistent with the gas capture plans that are the foundation of the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s Gas Flaring Policy.

For unlike conventional oil wells, Bakken wells generally produce most of their oil and gas in the first two years, after which production drops off dramatically. So, if Bakken wells are allowed to flare their associated natural gas for the first year of production, most of the gas that that well will produce will be wasted through flaring.

However, SB 2287 was defeated on the Senate floor. So today, if push comes to shove and an oil company decides not to follow their 90-day gas-capture plan, the Industrial Commission is powerless to force them to do so because current state law allows flaring for up to a year.

The second, SB 2343, started out on the Senate side as a bill to require oil and gas developers in the Bakken to pay royalties to mineral owners and taxes to the state on natural gas that is wasted by flaring. This would have not only provided a fair return on a valuable asset currently wasted, but also incentivized the capture of natural gas at the well site.

But ironically, almost cynically, the bill was “hoghoused” by the Senate. This means that the bill’s language—which was meant to fairly compensate mineral owners and collect taxes for the state—was struck and replaced with language designed to sabotage the Industrial Commission’s efforts to reduce gas flaring in the Bakken.

The final language in the version of SB 2343 that passed is a kind of code. It attaches a fiscal burden to—and thus, potentially kills—any policy that tries to mitigate the environmental impacts from oil and gas development in the state.

The fact that it is retroactive to one year before the North Dakota Industrial Commission adopted its current gas-flaring policy makes the intention clear.

In the course of missing opportunities, the 2015 Legislature ignored the “will of the people”and showed total apathy toward the environment, North Dakota taxpayers and private mineral owners.

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