Energy Efficiency

Reboot Illinois Features Essay on Game Changing Clean Energy Technologies by ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner

The Clean Power Plan will spur innovations and, over time, price carbon pollution. The high-decibel battles being waged in the courts and Congress miss the quiet revolution in renewable energy and efficiency technologies that is rapidly transforming the electricity market. Wind and solar energy combined with battery storage, advanced lighting, and other improvements are game changers. They are disruptive technologies that will change the electricity system just as wireless technologies reshaped the ways that we live and work. Better still, energy solutions developed in the United States can be marketed to emerging economies and the developing world to reduce carbon pollution.

Solar power is making great advances through policy drivers and technological innovations.

Energy efficiency improvements are saving people and businesses money on their utility bills, creating installation jobs, keeping money in local economies, and reducing pollution. Distributed generation and storage, continually improving efficiency technologies, smart energy management systems, demand response approaches, and microturbines lighten the load on the grid and enhance reliability and resilience. A more decentralized system is also less vulnerable to extreme weather events and terrorism.

Commercial photovoltaic panel efficiencies are improving about 1 percent annually, and inverter technologies improved from 80–85 percent efficiency to 98 percent efficiency. PV panel costs have dropped to 80 cents per watt. The pace of technological change for solar energy reflects experiences with computers, smartphones, and digital cameras. 2014 was the third consecutive year of more than 50 percent growth in the residential solar market.

Energy efficiency is the best, fastest, and cheapest solution to climate change problems. There is a quiet revolution of more efficient lighting, heating, and cooling technologies, more efficient refrigerators and other appliances, more efficient industrial pumps and motors, and better building design.

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Update: Sen. Kirk Votes Against Resolution to Disapprove the Clean Power Plan

You helped make a difference. Senator Kirk sadly agreed to sponsor a Congressional Review Act resolution to stop the EPA’s Clean Power Plan standards from taking effect. That would undermine important public health protections and new clean energy development.

ELPC asked our e-activists to call Senator Kirk’s office requesting that he reconsider his position. He did. We appreciate that Senator Kirk changed his position and yesterday voted against the resolutions (S.J. 23 & 24) to disapprove the Clean Power Plan.

President Obama has made clear that he’ll veto the resolutions, which passed the Senate by a 52-48 vote. It’s very unlikely that there will be the necessary 67 votes in the Senate to override the President’s veto. The Clean Power Plan will go forward.

Your citizen engagement helped make a difference in persuading Senator Kirk to change his mind and support the Clean Power Plan this time. We appreciate his votes yesterday. Thank you for your participation and support.

ELPC 2015: What We’ve Achieved, and What’s Next

This is a transformational year for the environment. ELPC is seizing strategic opportunities for progress on the big issues. We’re achieving strong results in these politically gridlocked times.

First, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan caps two decades of sustained advocacy by ELPC and many environmental and public health colleagues backed by sound scientific findings. The U.S. is now stepping up as a global leader advancing clean energy solutions to reduce carbon pollution.

Second, solar energy, wind power and innovative energy efficiency technologies are poised to transform the electricity market just as wireless transformed telecommunications, changing the ways that we live and work. ELPC is driving new policies to accelerate distributed Midwest solar energy installations and install one million new smart thermostats in Illinois.

Third, ELPC’s successful litigation to stop the fiscal folly Illiana Tollway, protect the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and promote sound regional planning is transforming transportation policy to prioritize public transit and modern regional rail instead of politically clouted boondoggles. ELPC attorneys are winning in both the court of law and the court of public opinion.

ELPC is effective. Our teams of expert public interest attorneys, M.B.A.s, policy advocates and communications specialists, combined with the ELPC Science Advisory Council, play to win and know how to get things done.  ELPC is truly making a difference for a better world.


Your support has helped ELPC advance a cleaner renewable energy mix for the Midwest, accelerate cleaner transportation, and clean up the rivers and great lakes that we all care about. Please consider ELPC’s results and make a financial contribution to support our successful program work in 2016:


Ditching the Illiana Tollway Boondoggle and Protecting the Remarkable Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Midewin_Illiana_250x330The proposed new Illiana Tollway is a fiscal folly, undermines sound regional planning and would harm wildlife and ecological values in the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. On June 16th, Federal District Court Judge Jorge Alonso granted Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and declared that the federal and state transportation agencies’ approval of the Tier 1 final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision “for the proposed new Illiana Expressway was arbitrary and capricious and in violation of NEPA.” This is a tremendous litigation victory for ELPC’s public interest attorneys on behalf of our clients Midewin Heritage Association, Openlands and Sierra Club.

More than a dozen newspapers across Illinois have editorialized against the Illiana “road to nowhere” during the state’s fiscal crisis and when there are much higher priorities for limited transportation infrastructure funds to enable badly-needed fixes for transit and commuter rail, intercity higher-speed rail, and highway and bridge repairs.

ELPC’s legal, economic and media advocacy and our clients’ public engagement have changed the proposed new boondoggle Illiana Tollway from a “done deal” to “terminal life support.” It’s time for Governor Rauner and Illinois’ political leadership to finally ditch the Illiana once and for all. ELPC is working hard in the federal and state courts, and in the courts of public opinion, to bring the proposed Illiana Tollway to its well-deserved end.


Installing One Million Smart Thermostats in Illinois – A National Model

NestThermostat_250x330ELPC and Commonwealth Edison worked together creating an ambitious new program to install one million new smart thermostats in Illinois homes and small businesses over the next five years. U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy joined us for the October 8th public announcement. This leading-edge initiative provides rebates up to $120, using the consumer-funded Energy Efficiency Performance Standards program resources, for the new generation of Ecobee, Nest and Honeywell thermostats that learn customer behavior and adjust cooling and heating without complicated programming. These “smart thermostats” can save consumers 15%-25% from their heating and cooling costs and reduce pollution. Once the Illinois program is off the ground, ELPC plans to replicate it in more Midwestern states. This innovative technology is a winner.


Accelerating Solar Energy in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota

SolarShedd_250x330Solar energy installations in the Midwest grew by 70% last year, creating jobs, new businesses and economic growth. However, the coal industry and some electric utilities are seeking to impose regulatory barriers to protect their polluting power plants and their electricity monopolies. ELPC is working to advance sound policies that drive clean solar energy forward and remove regulatory barriers to development.

In Illinois, ELPC was instrumental in helping enact and then design the state’s first $30 million distributed solar generation procurement.

In Iowa, ELPC successfully repelled Interstate Power & Light’s attempt to impose new barriers to solar development after we won a major case before the Iowa Supreme Court to remove utility-imposed barriers to conventional third-party financing arrangements for solar energy development projects.

In Minnesota and Michigan, ELPC is making steady progress with our state-based partners to design new distributed solar programs and strategies. We’re moving forward at this transformational time to accelerate solar energy development for a cleaner energy future. ELPC is pro-technological innovation, pro-competition and pro-removing regulatory barriers to solar.


Keeping the Great Lakes and Midwest Rivers Clean

LakeMichiganMichigan-sidebarThere are two main types of water pollution – from a single, identifiable “point” source and the “non-point” flows from farms, ranches and streets. ELPC is working on both.

This is the first year that the SS Badger car ferry did not dump about 1,000,000 pounds of toxic coal ash into Lake Michigan. The ship now has a new coal ash containment system thanks to an effective advocacy campaign led by ELPC with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and our good colleagues. ELPC’s work to stop the SS Badger from polluting the drinking water supplies for 42 million people is a strong precedent that reinforces that it’s no longer acceptable to dump toxic pollution in our Great Lakes.

ELPC also brought together more than 60 scientists and policymakers for our second annual Great Lakes Science-Policy Confluence Conference to discuss solutions to mitigate “nutrient pollution” – agricultural runoff that helped cause toxic blue-green algae blooms in Western Lake Erie. In summer 2014, 500,000 people in the Toledo area were without safe drinking water supplies for 72 hours. That’s not acceptable. ELPC is stepping up our advocacy for the necessary actions to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from agricultural operations that caused the toxic algae and contaminated water supplies.

ELPC continues our Mississippi River protection legal leadership, and we convened a new collaboration of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia groups for coordinated multi-state action to help clean up the Ohio River, considered by some to be America’s most polluted waterway.


ELPC Is Accelerating the Next Generation of Sustainable Transportation

AmtrakELPC is a recognized leader in advancing the Midwest high-speed rail network, which will improve mobility, reduce pollution, create jobs and pull together the regional economy. We are working to accelerate new clean cars and trucks, which use modern technologies to increase fuel efficiency and reduce pollution.

This year, I was honored to be asked by Amtrak’s CEO to serve on a four-member Blue Ribbon Panel analyzing and recommending strategies and better practices to increase fluidity and reduce congestion for higher-speed passenger rail and freight rail in the “Chicago Gateway” leading to St. Louis, Detroit and the East Coast.



Making the Clean Power Plan Standards Work Well

coal_250x330This is the federal cornerstone for America’s commitment to climate change solutions. ELPC is working with many business, environmental, health and faith-based allies to overcome the coal industry’s and certain politicians’ litigation efforts to stall progress, and to effectively implement state climate solution action plans in the Midwest states. Overall, ELPC is advancing new policies to drive energy markets with technological innovations that can change the world.





ELPC believes in the core principle that environmental progress and economic growth can be achieved together, and we put that sustainability principle into practice every day. ELPC’s solutions-focused strategies engage diverse partners and seize opportunities to accelerate clean energy development and clean transportation technologies, protect clean air and clean water, and preserve the Midwest’s wild and natural places.

ELPC’s multidisciplinary staff teams of public interest attorneys, M.B.A.s, policy experts and communications specialists are fully engaged across the Midwest, and we’re making progress. It isn’t easy; real change never is. We don’t give up. Let’s keep working together to win.

Thank you for engaging and making a contribution to support ELPC’s work to harness this change and achieve a brighter future.


New Essay on Game Changing Clean Energy Technologies Transforming the Electricity Market

My latest essay about the quiet revolution in renewable energy and innovative efficiency technologies that is rapidly transforming the electricity market was just published in ELI’s Environmental Forum (Nov – Dec 2015):  “Evolving [Clean Energy] Technologies Are Game Changers.” You can read it here.

ELPC’s Rob Kelter Talks Smart Thermostat Rebates with WGN Radio

ELPC’s Rob Kelter, who first conceived of ComEd’s smart thermostat program, recently joined WGN’s Amy Guth on WGN Radio’s Wintrust Business Lunch program to talk about all of the advantages of the devices. Take a listen!

Learn how you can get your rebate!

Urgent Action Needed. Please call Senator Kirk’s Office on His Opposition to Climate Solutions

Today, Politico reported that Illinois Senator Mark Kirk says he will sponsor the extreme Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution being promoted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to stop the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which sets standards for Illinois and other states to flexibly reduce carbon pollution.

Politico quotes Senator Kirk as saying:  “With this rule applied, I don’t think we can keep a lot of people in Illinois happily employed.”

Illinois is an economic winner under the Clean Power Plan because of our state’s clean wind power, solar energy and energy efficiency resources, and nuclear plants.

Please call Senator Kirk’s office at (202) 224-2854 or (312) 886-3506 and ask him to oppose the CRA resolution that would stop the Clean Power Plan.

The CRA resolution is a highly controversial mechanism that has been only applied once in history and should not be used to attempt blocking the Clean Power Plan.

Senator Kirk previously expressed concerns about climate change problems and voted in favor of federal legislation to reduce carbon pollution. If the Politico story and quote are true, ELPC is very disappointed with Sen. Kirk’s flip-flop and his decision to sponsor the CRA resolution. We called his office today to express our concern and disappointment.

Please call Senator Kirk’s office at 202-224-2854 and (312) 886-3506 and ask him to oppose the CRA resolution that would stop the Clean Power Plan.

Tell Senator Kirk that you care about the environment and want Illinois to benefit from the jobs, economic development and cleaner air that the Clean Power Plan can deliver.

Thank you for helping.

Wall Street Journal: As Conservation Cuts Electricity Use, Utilities Turn to Fees

Electric utilities across the country are trying to change the way they charge customers, shifting more of their fixed costs to monthly fees, raising the hackles of consumer watchdogs and conservation advocates.

Traditionally, charges for generating, transporting and maintaining the grid have been wrapped together into a monthly cost based on the amount of electricity consumers use each month. Some utilities also charge a basic service fee of $5 or so a month to cover the costs of reading meters and sending out bills.

Now, many utility companies are seeking to increase their monthly fees by double-digit percentages, raising them to $25 or more a month regardless of the amount of power consumers use. The utilities argue that the fees should cover a bigger proportion of the fixed costs of the electric grid, including maintenance and repairs.

“The [electricity] grid is becoming a more complex machine, and there needs to be an equitable sharing of its costs,” said Lisa Wood, a vice president of the Edison Electric Institute, the nonprofit arm of the utility industry’s trade group. A typical American household pays $110 a month for electricity, she said; more than half goes to cover fixed costs.

Utilities in at least 24 states have requested higher fees, according to the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago, which opposes some of these increases. If regulators allow the fee increases, “the result is that low-use customers pay more than in the past, and high-use customers pay less,” said Bradley Klein, a senior attorney for the group.

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The Huffington Post: Unleashing Innovation for a Clean Energy Economy

One of America’s greatest assets is the ingenuity of its people. President Obama has been driving that theme home since the beginning of his Administration. At EPA, we’ve seen time and again that by unleashing homegrown American innovation, we can bring about big wins for both the environment and the economy.

Just look at renewable energy — today the U.S. generates three times as much wind power, and 20 times as much solar power as we did in 2008. And since the beginning of 2010, the average cost of a solar electric system in the U.S. has dropped by half. At the same time, the U.S. solar industry is creating jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy.

And look at the auto industry — we’ve set historic fuel efficiency standards that promise to send our cars twice as far on a gallon of gas by the middle of the next decade — a move that will reduce pollution and save families money at the pump at the same time. Today, every major U.S. automaker offers electric vehicles. And since 2009, the American auto industry added more than 250,000 jobs.

These are wins all around. That’s why states, communities and leading private sector companies are investing in clean energy innovation. Because it’s good for the environment and it’s good for business. There are countless state-based projects already underway to reduce energy waste, boost efficiencies, and vastly increase the amount of energy solar panels can produce from the sun.

We’re already seeing tremendous progress across the country — including the development of smart, low-cost technologies that help households save on their energy bills. On this front, the state of Illinois is moving ahead at full speed.
Just last week, I was proud to join officials from the City of Chicago, utility companies, citizen groups and two energy-technology companies — Nest and Ecobee — as they announced a major new initiative to get one million “smart” thermostats into northern Illinois homes by the year 2020.

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Chicago Tonight: Smart Thermostat Initiative Aims to Cut Energy Bills in Northern Illinois

A new energy initiative is encouraging northern Illinois residents to get smart—by purchasing so-called smart thermostats—under a rebate program that aims to help cut heating costs. Will homeowners warm up to what is planned to be the country’s largest smart energy initiative?

Joining us to discuss the plan are Val Jensen, senior vice president for customer operations at Commonwealth Edison; Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center; and Jim Chilsen, communications director for the Citizens Utility Board (CUB), a consumer advocacy watchdog group.

How it works

Smart thermostats are Wi-Fi enabled devices that enable a user to control home heat and air conditioning settings through their smartphone, tablet and computer while inside or outside of the home.

With the support of the Illinois Commerce Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency, the smart thermostat initiative is a public-private partnership between ComEd, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, Nicor Gas, Peoples Gas, North Shore Gas and CUB.

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The Motley Fool: Alphabet’s Nest Gets a Boost From an Unlikely Source

Alphabet (nee Google) (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) may be compared to Apple in many respects, and vice versa, but there’s one area where Cupertino soundly bests Mountain View: devices. On one hand, Apple’s iPhone alone is responsible for $147 billion in revenue over the trailing 12-months versus Alphabet’s total haul of $70 billion.

Alphabet, on the other hand, has struggled with devices. After buying Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion in 2011, the company sold the division to Lenovo for $2.9 billion after years of red ink, although it should be noted the company kept certain high-value patents and sold off a portion of the business to Arris for $2.5 billion as well as keeping Motorola’s $3.2 billion cash pile at the time of acquisition.

So while the deal may not have been as bad as advertised, it certainly did not bear fruit in respects to bringing a game-changing device to market. In addition, Alphabet’s Nexus line of phones have failed to catch on in a meaningful way versus Apple’s iPhone and Samsung‘s Galaxy line of phones. However, there is one device Alphabet has that could become its most important: Its Nest line of thermostats the company purchased in 2014 for $3.2 billion.

Will a subsidy turbocharge sales?

If a recent report from The Washington Post comes to fruition, look for Nest unit sales to skyrocket. ComEd, owned by major electric and natural gas supplier Exelon, announced an ambitious project to get 1 million Nest and Ecobee thermostats into homes in its service area of Illinois by the end of this decade.

To accomplish this goal, the company plans to heavily discount the cost by providing rebates up to $120 — or nearly half — on units that cost $249. And while this is only one state, this program has the potential to spread to all of Exelon’s 7.8 million customers in 48 states if successful.

In the end, this is a win/win for everybody. ComEd benefits by being able to better control the grid and the positive recognition of working to eliminate greenhouse gases. For users, this will result in lower electrical bills — the Post reports the Environmental Law and Policy Center estimates savings as much as $130 annually by swapping out manual thermostats for smart ones, paying for itself in exactly one year with the full discount.

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ELPC’s Founding Vision is Becoming Today’s Sustainability Reality

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