Electricity

Forbes: ELPC’s Learner Discusses the Ease of Being Green

By Jeff McMahon, Forbes

It’s not easy being green, Kermit the Frog lamented when he recorded the hit single “Bein’ Green” in 1970. But it’s getting easier as the flow of capital shifts from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, a law and policy expert said in Chicago Friday.

“The flow of capital now is moving toward solar energy, retrofitting people’s homes, building wind power instead of building new coal plants,” said Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

“That money, that ingenuity, that innovation will make it easier for people whether they’re in India getting light for the first time through a bulb, or in Chicago. That’s how we make a difference on this.”

The shift in capital, already underway, has accelerated since powerful financial interests put their money behind a new energy economy at the Paris Climate Conference.

“That’s what happened to some degree in Paris,” he said. “The money was put on the table in a very serious way by different coalitions, so that the changes that are happening—there’s money to facilitate and lubricate that globally.”

Meanwhile, he said, no one can get a loan to build a coal plant.

Learner pointed to the share price of Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, which he said has dropped from $74 five years ago, to the equivalent of 32¢ today, taking stock splits into account. Peabody warned investors Wednesday that it may go out of business.

“It’s lost more than 99 percent of its market value, so you’re going to begin seeing coal and oil stay in the ground as electricity use becomes more efficient. As renewables and efficiencies come into the market, there’s going to be less coal use here and abroad,” Learner said. “The process of bankruptcy is going to have some really bad implications, for communities, for workers, for mine reclamation, but one thing it’s going to do is it’s going to mean there’s less coal being mined.

“How do you keep fossil in the ground? The market for it is going away.”

In the next 20 years, 75 percent of the lights in Chicago will be LED lights, Learner predicted, a single technological innovation that alone will reduce the city’s energy consumption by 7.5 percent. It’s easy for consumers to buy the super-efficient LEDs because lightbulb manufacturers, like GE and Phillips, are shifting to LED, lightbulb retailers, like IKEA are shifting to LED, and the price of LED has dropped.

“If you go to buy a refrigerator you don’t have to buy the green one to get one that’s more energy efficient. Every refrigerator you look at will be 30 to 40 percent more efficient than the one it’s replacing,” Learner said. ”It doesn’t require everybody to decide, ‘I’m going to be green.’ They’re just going to save money.”

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ELPC Discusses the Changing Realities of the Competitive Power Market with Crain’s Chicago Business

A brutally competitive wholesale power market appears close to claiming a notable power-plant victim in Northern Illinois.

NRG Energy, which entered the market last year via the purchase of a fleet of mainly coal-fired power plants, is moving to shutter the last remaining unit in south suburban Romeoville. That puts at risk 70 jobs at the plant.

The Princeton, N.J.-based power generator Dec. 4 notified PJM Interconnection, the grid operator for all or part of 13 states including Northern Illinois, that it wouldn’t bid in the upcoming auction to pay power plants to be available during high-demand periods in the future. Such “capacity” payments are embedded in electric bills paid by all consumers.

The notice means that NRG would shut the 510-megawatt plant down no earlier than mid-2018. The unit is the last of four originally built on the site by Commonwealth Edison in the 1950s and ’60s. ComEd sold the plants in 1999, and NRG bought them out of bankruptcy last year.

“After analyzing forecast market conditions, NRG has determined that we cannot justify continued operation of Will County Unit 4 . . . beyond May 2018,” NRG spokesman David Gaier wrote in an email.

NRG closed Unit 3 earlier this year; Unit 4, built in 1963, is the largest and newest of the four units. Units 1 and 2 closed in 2010.

In August 2014, NRG announced a $567 million plan to modernize the Illinois fleet it acquired out of bankruptcy. As part of that, it’s converting its coal-fired power station in nearby Joliet to run on cleaner-burning natural gas, beginning next year.

At the time, NRG said it would close Will County’s 251-megawatt Unit 3. The future of Unit 4 was left undecided; NRG said at the time it would continue running the plant “as long as market conditions would support the profitable operation of the unit.”

Wholesale prices were relatively low when NRG first unveiled its plans, and they since have deteriorated. Owners of coal-fired plants around the country are announcing closure plans as they opt not to invest in pollution controls to comply with tightening environmental rules.

Environmentalists, of course, aren’t grieving at the news.

The plan to close the last Romeoville unit “recognizes the changing realities of the competitive electricity market with low natural gas prices, robust economical wind power resources and energy efficiency holding down demand,” says Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a clean-energy advocate.

NRG’s Gaier cautioned that the company still could reverse its stance and bid into the PJM auction in the spring if market conditions improve in the next few months. The auction will determine which plants will collect “capacity” payments from consumers from mid-2019 until mid-2020. Owners that bid and clear the auction are obligated to keep their plants open and available during that time frame.

NRG is in some amount of turmoil at the moment, with the surprise resignation late last week of CEO David Crane, who had championed a costly strategy to invest heavily in green power, particularly rooftop solar installers. Chief Operating Officer Mauricio Gutierrez succeeded him as CEO.

It’s a guessing game among analysts at this point how much NRG’s strategy will change with the management overhaul. The company’s stock is down 62.6 percent so far this year.

As for NRG’s plans for the other plants it owns in Northern Illinois, Gaier wrote, “As of this moment, we’re moving forward with the plan as previously announced, with many elements completed or substantially underway . . . delivering massive emissions reductions.”

Those include new pollution controls at NRG’s Waukegan power station, which are finished, and at its Powerton plant in downstate Pekin, which will be done next year.

91 Illinois Communities Powered by 100% Green Electricity

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, March 7, 2014

David Jakubiak
(312) 795-3713
djakubiak@elpc.org

 

NORMAL, Ill. – Ninety-one communities in Illinois have achieved 100 percent renewable electricity for their residents, says a new report released today by the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, LEAN Energy US, the Illinois Solar Energy Association, and George Washington University Solar Institute. Each of the 91 communities chose to purchase electricity through renewable energy credits, leveraging their group buying power to receive renewable electricity while also reducing overall electricity cost.

 

Illinois has far more towns and cities supplying 100 percent renewable electricity than any other state in the union; Ohio follows with two cities.

 

“Normal is showing how communities can help move our country toward a more sustainable future from the local level,” Sen. Dick Durbin said. “Along with other communities up and down Illinois, this city is cutting down both its utility bills and its environmental footprint by pursuing renewable electricity.  I hope other states take notice of the good work being done here in Normal and all across Illinois.”

 

“We look at community aggregation as a way to get our City a great price on electricity, and we see it as a way to advance our sustainability goals,” said Normal Mayor Chris Koos, “We are proud that Normal and almost 100 other Illinois cities and towns are model for the nation in having those two goals go hand-in-hand.”

 

The 91 communities that have transitioned to 100 percent renewable electricity represent more than 1.7 million individuals. Demand for renewable energy from the state is more than six terawatt hours, a reduction in greenhouse gas comparable to taking more than one million cars off the road.

 

“We are seeing the power of letting communities choose their electricity supply,” said Sarah Wochos, senior policy advocate at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Across Illinois, cities and towns are asking for clean, renewable energy, and we encourage them to use that power to bring new renewable energy projects to their communities.”

 

“Across much of Illinois we have seen the impact that clean energy projects can have in boosting local development,” said Lisa Medearis, clean energy advocate with the Sierra Club, “This report honors communities across Illinois for their sustainability leadership, and urges them to continue innovating in 2014 by supporting even more local clean energy projects in Illinois.”

 

“Without fanfare, 91 local governments in Illinois have decided that renewable electricity is the best option,” said Keya Chatterjee, director of renewable energy and footprint outreach at WWF. “No one knew this was happening, and I doubt anyone would have guessed. America’s green energy revolution is here; and it starts in Illinois.”

 

To download a copy of the report, visit www.gocleangolocal.org/IllinoisReport.

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