Energy Efficiency

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.

Crain’s Chicago Business: Illinois energy politics spill over to Maryland, with Exelon deal in balance

As the deadline nears for Maryland utility regulators to rule on Exelon’s proposed buyout of Pepco Holdings, energy politics in Illinois are playing an improbable starring role.

Maryland officials, who staunchly oppose the $6.8 billion tie-up on fears that Pepco will be induced to support anti-consumer policies favoring Exelon’s unregulated power plants, are pointing to legislation that Exelon-owned Commonwealth Edison is pushing in Illinois as key evidence backing their argument.

ComEd added that bill in March to the stew of energy proposals already simmering in Springfield. Chicago’s electric utility says the series of initiatives in its legislation is aimed at fostering growth in clean energy and energy efficiency, as well as enhancing reliability.

The Maryland Energy Administration, along with the Maryland attorney general, sees it differently.

ComEd’s bill “is riddled with anti-consumer provisions, and would implement a vision of the ‘future’ in which Exelon’s distribution utilities will be able to control the pace of (distributed generation, i.e., solar panels on rooftops) penetration—thereby protecting the value of Exelon’s central station generation,” Maryland officials wrote in May 1 testimony filed by Attorney General Brian Frosh with the Maryland Public Service Commission. “If this merger is approved, Exelon will own the distribution companies that serve all of the Mid-Atlantic’s major urban centers, and there should be little doubt that it will attempt to bring the Illinois ‘model’ to Maryland.”

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Sun-Times Editorial: How to Make Illinois Greener and Save on Power Bills

Available at: http://chicago.suntimes.com/politics/7/71/583197/editorial-make-illinois-greener-save-power-bills

Back in 2008, Illinois raised its energy efficiency standards, rewarding electricity ratepayers who, for example, used energy-efficient light bulbs or better insulated their factories.

As result since then, all consumers have saved more than $1 billion.

A new Illinois Clean Jobs Bill, now pending in the state Legislature, would raise those standards even higher and, ideally, use the greater savings to pay for an increase in the amount of renewable energy used in Illinois, while still returning money to consumers. It’s likely this bill will be tweaked before a final vote, but the concept is sound, which is why it’s supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and an array of environmental, consumer and labor groups.

Illinois already has committed itself to using solar, wind and other renewables — as opposed to, say, coal or nuclear energy — for at least 25 percent of its energy by 2025. The new legislation, which has companion versions in the Illinois House and Senate, would raise that to 35 percent by 2030. It’s a reasonable goal. As the New York Times reported Wednesday, Germany in 15 years has already converted 30 percent of its energy sources to solar and wind.

Although renewable energy costs more today than other power sources, the Citizens Utility Board estimates consumers would come out ahead by $1.6 billion by 2030. That would be a $98 annual savings for the average residential ratepayer. CUB says $1.6 billion is its mid-range estimate and that savings could go as high as $2.2 billion. A separate analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists also predicts substantial savings.

We’re not so sure regular homeowners will rush out to buy smart appliances, like programmable dishwashers and dryers, that can save money by shifting shift energy use to non-peak periods, such as the middle of the night. But because of the complicated way energy pricing works — with peak use driving the rates — CUB says even people who don’t do anything on their own will save money.

Ratepayers in the Chicago area have saved money under the current law through a ComEd energy conservation program that subsidizes such things as heating, ventilation and new technologies. As the Rev. Booker Steven Vance told the Sun-Times Editorial Board last month, the program has been a particular benefit in lower-income communities.

But the program’s funding is capped. The new law eliminates the cap, making more energy efficiency initiatives possible. The law also requires utilities such as ComEd to prove that the new initiatives it undertakes are cost effective.

Another arguable benefit to this legislation is that it would bring jobs to the state, according to a survey released this week by the Clean Energy Trust. The survey found Illinois already has more than 100,000 jobs in the clean energy sector, and has experienced growth of 7.8 percent in the last 15 months. That survey, though, fails to consider that other jobs would be lost as less fossil fuel and nuclear energy is used.

ComEd and Exelon have introduced separate bills, and the Downstate utility Dynegy is buttonholing legislators with concerns of its own. Exelon has a vested interested in the continued use of nuclear energy, of course, as does Dynegy with coal. There is a strong possibility all three of these measures will wind up in a single omnibus bill.

But it is crucial that the end result is a balanced Illinois Clean Jobs Bill that promotes a cleaner environment in a way that does not drive up electricity bills.

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial: Exelon’s rate-hike proposal is a bad bill

Exelon, which operates six nuclear power plants in Illinois, says it needs help because — although it made more than $2 billion last year —  it has lost about $1 billion in the past five years on three of its plants: Clinton, Quad Cities and Byron. The nuclear plants are having a hard time competing in the marketplace partly because plentiful supplies have driven down the price of natural gas.

The utility says it is unwilling to run any nuclear plant at a loss, though its nuclear fleet is profitable overall. It says Illinois needs all of its nuclear plants for reliability and low-carbon power generation. It also warns that 8,000 jobs in Illinois would be lost if the plants were shuttered.

To save the three plants, then, Exelon wants to raise electricity bills by $300 million a year under what it calls a market-based plan that would benefit all types of low-carbon generators of energy, including solar, wind and nuclear. The company says it is asking only for the same favorable treatment renewable energy gets.

The problem, critics accurately say, is that the bill is designed to funnel the new money into Exelon’s pockets while doing almost nothing to help generators of renewable energy.

Before Exelon digs deeper into your wallet, let’s demand at least a limited look at its balance sheet. The company says it has provided such information to legislative leaders, but does that give you much confidence? You, the ratepayers who would have to pony up, deserve a look-see, too.

Second, how is it Exelon can say it is unfair, when sizing up this bill, to consider the profitability of the company’s nuclear fleet as a whole, though all ratepayers — including Chicagoans who get their electrical power from profitable plants — would be forced to pay the surcharge? There is a feeling here of a company trying to socialize the risks while keeping the profits private.

Third, any low-carbon bill that emerges out of Springfield cannot favor Exelon. Renewable energy is the future, and the state should be making that a priority, not nuclear plants. It’s not prudent to put renewable energy at a disadvantage.

Exelon’s bill, which has both House and Senate versions, is one of three energy-related proposals on the docket in his session. Possibly, it will be rolled with others into an omnibus bill.

Whatever emerges must put ratepayers first. And it must not undercut our state’s truly green energy future.

WBEZ Worldview: Earth Day Quiz

Midwest Energy News: Critics say Michigan utility aims to ‘monopolize’ community solar

Michigan’s first proposed large-scale community solar program is coming under fire from clean-energy advocates who say it would prevent independent third parties from developing their own programs.

Within the next month, the Michigan Public Service Commission is expected to rule on Consumers Energy’sproposed 10 MW community solar pilot program, which would be the first program of its kind from one of the two major investor-owned utilities here. Smaller-scale projects are underway or in development elsewhere in the state.

But a group of clean-energy advocacy groups have intervened in the case before the MPSC, claiming that Consumers’ proposal would “monopolize” the community solar market, as the utility seeks to prevent independent third parties from developing projects within its service territory.

The utility disputes this point, saying third parties are allowed to develop projects within the program as long as they enter into power-purchase agreements with Consumers.

Further, advocates have raised concerns about the way Consumers has determined a value of solar, a contentious undertaking in other states where utilities and consumer advocates have argued over how much solar users should be compensated for generating the energy. Critics of the plan say Consumers is undervaluing customers’ investments.

The solar coalition — made up of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Ecology Center and the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association — also says the utility is missing opportunities for strategic site planning, which could include contaminated brownfield properties around the state.

Brad Klein, staff attorney with the Chicago-based ELPC, said shutting out third parties is a “major issue.”

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WI State Journal: Opponents continue attack as major Wisconsin utility merger moves forward

Opponents continue to fight plans by Wisconsin Energy Corp., Milwaukee, to buy Integrys Energy Group, Chicago, even though the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the $9.1 billion deal this week.

The Wisconsin Citizens Utility Board called it “a bad idea,” in comments submitted Monday.

“WEC has shown how the proposed transaction will provide hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits for shareholders, lawyers, bankers, and customers in other states while providing nothing for Wisconsin customers but increased risks,” CUB wrote.

If approved, the huge utility will serve more than 4.3 million customers.

Wisconsin Energy subsidiary, We Energies, provides electricity to residents as far west as the Deerfield and Marshall areas in Dane County. Integrys includes Green Bay utility company Wisconsin Public Service.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center of Chicago said the merged company — to be called WEC Energy Group — will have too much control over American Transmission Corp., which owns and operates high-voltage transmission lines in Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The center said WEC should have no more than 34 percent ownership or voting rights in ATC.

Wisconsin Energy spokesman Brian Manthey said FERC’s decision “represents one more positive and important step in the process of finalizing our acquisition.”

Regulators in Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan are expected to act on the proposal by early July. Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission could cast its vote later this month, Manthey said.

Midwest Energy News: Can better utility planning replace clean-energy standards?

A key component of energy proposals emerging from the Michigan legislature is that more robust long-term planning requirements for utilities can effectively replace renewable energy and efficiency standards.

Known as Integrated Resource Plans, Republicans in the House and Senate say requiring utilities to file these every three to five years will produce the most cost-effective resource mix into the future, eliminating the need for meeting goals under a renewable portfolio or energy efficiency mandate.

Formal IRPs are required in 28 states and come in various forms. Typically they are filed every two to five years and forecasts of supply, demand and other market factors can stretch upwards of 20 years.

While experts who follow clean-energy policies say such planning can be helpful in outlining long-term needs for utilities, some argue that — if the goal is expanding renewables or energy efficiency — IRPs are unable to produce the same results as clearly defined standards. Moreover, they are liable to become esoteric exercises in utility planning.

“It’s pretty apparent to those of us keeping a close eye on these types of things that an IRP process is not a substitute for renewable energy and energy efficiency standards,” said Sam Gomberg, Midwest energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“Standards really provide a tremendous amount of certainty of both utilities and the state to ensure these resources are brought online to a significant degree. The evidence is so clear that not only is it cost effective, but they also bring a lot of benefits to the ratepayer. An IRP can be a great complement to those standards.”

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

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