As energy politics heat up in Illinois, Commonwealth Edison is throwing some more logs on the fire.
The utility is backing legislation being introduced today in Springfield that effectively is a response to the clean-jobs bill backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a coalition of environmental, consumer and labor groups, along with renewable power developers and energy-efficiency firms.
ComEd’s 11th-hour bill, coming as the spring session is well underway, also could be intended to build more support for a bill pushed by ComEd parent Exelon to raise electricity rates throughout much of the state in order to increase revenue at Exelon’s six Illinois nuclear plants.
Environmentalists and others have positioned the clean-jobs bill, which would boost state goals for renewable energy and more efficient use of electricity and create what its proponents say would be tens of thousands of new jobs, as an alternative to Exelon’s bill. Somewhat surprisingly, given that Exelon is one of Illinois’ most politically potent corporations, the clean-jobs coalition has won more support thus far in terms of co-sponsors than Exelon. Exelon’s bill would funnel most of the $300 million in additional ratepayer payments to Exelon’s plants, preserving the jobs that already exist there.
Exelon has threatened to shutter as many as three of its six Illinois power stations if it can’t get state financial help.
ComEd’s bill, to be introduced by Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, and Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, is designed to foster growth in clean energy like solar power for households and micro-grids providing greater reliability and resiliency to sensitive facilities like the Federal Aviation Administration’s air-traffic control center in Aurora.
ComEd also proposes a $100 million program to build 5,000 Chicago-area charging stations to increase demand for electric vehicles.
The bill would increase ComEd’s bottom line in the future as decreased customer demand for power hits its revenue by permitting the utility to profit on its state-authorized energy efficiency program. Currently, ComEd only charges ratepayers to reimburse it for its costs in running the program.
But the trade-off, ComEd says, is that it would achieve the 2 percent reduction in power usage called for in an earlier state law by more efficiently controlling voltage on ComEd’s power lines, so that less excess electricity is lost before reaching customers’ homes and businesses.
In addition, the bill would overhaul how ComEd’s power-delivery rates are set. Currently, customers pay delivery rates mainly based on how much power they consume in a month. Beginning in 2018, they would pay based on how much electricity they consume during the highest-demand days of the year. Some customers would benefit and some would pay more under the new system. ComEd hasn’t yet determined how it would affect individual types of households.
But it would help ComEd by making its cash flow more predictable, executives said.
It also might help customers take better advantage of the smart meters ComEd is installing in their homes. Those meters, which give the utility remote access to customers’ actual usage on a real-time basis, have the potential to foster new efficiency programs in ways where households can see savings from changes in usage.
The bill, ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore told reporters, “is designed to deliver the next wave of value from that (smart grid) system.”
And all of this comes at no additional cost on a net basis to customers over the 10 years the new program would be in place, ComEd said. The utility says it would see a negligible $20 million in additional revenue over that 10-year period if the bill becomes law.
CRITICS WEIGH IN
One environmental group immediately blasted ComEd’s proposal as a pale imitation of the clean-jobs bill.
“Unfortunately, Exelon’s and ComEd’s legislative proposals would raise utility bills for most consumers, create barriers to competition and constrain energy efficiency and diverse solar energy development for the future,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, in a statement. “ComEd’s legislative proposal forecloses flexibility that Illinois needs to transition to a cleaner energy future and locks out competitors.”
Other members of the clean-jobs coalition were more open to some of ComEd’s ideas.