A rooftop solar installation. Photo by John Callas

Update

Eric Sippert

Revitalizing Illinois’ Power Grid: Where We Are

The Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) issued its first two orders that spell out the requirements for ComEd and Ameren’s initial integrated grid plans.

A key component of Illinois’ groundbreaking Climate and Equitable Jobs Act’s (SB2408) was the creation of a grid planning division at the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) which will require utilities to submit detailed “Multi-Year Integrated Grid Plans. To achieve our goal of reaching a 100% carbon-free power sector by 2045, Illinois needs to adjust the electric grid to match. Grid planning has huge stakes for communities, with reliability, affordability, and the path of the clean energy transition all on the line.

Just this week, the commission issued its first two orders that spell out what these requirements will look like for ComEd and Ameren. As with any new process, there are lessons to be learned along the way. Here’s how things are going so far.

Robust Collaboration and Input: An Ongoing Challenge

Accessible, clear, and complete data will give advocates, community organizations, and the Commission the ability to see where and for whom the grid is failing—a necessary step for a more equitable grid.

Robust collaboration and input are vital for the creation of an equitable decentralized grid, but far from an easy task. From December 2021 to May 2022, a third-party facilitator held Multi-Year Integrated Grid Plan Workshops designed to share information about electric utilities’ historic and future distribution system investments. The workshop process revealed distinct challenges and barriers to enabling meaningful involvement of non-expert community members in arcane electric industry proceedings. Public utility commission proceedings traditionally include utilities, lawyers, and state regulatory agency staff. Commissions and facilitators must grapple with the challenge of, on the one hand, creating forums where technical complex grid planning considerations are translated into accessible language. On the other hand, they must find ways to bring voices outside of the “usual suspects” to the table to translate their needs and desires into a language that utilities understand. The Workshop Facilitator’s Final Report acknowledged the challenges inherent in ensuring effective community engagement and concluded that more work is needed to ensure that stakeholder voices are appropriately reflected in utility grid plans.

Initiating Orders

On July 22, the Commission issued two “Initiating Orders” that spell out the requirements for ComEd and Ameren’s initial grid plans. The orders provide important targets that will support equity and decarbonization in Illinois.  For example, in relation to equity, both utilities are directed to ensure that 40% of grid modernization benefits go to Equity Investment Eligible Communities, provide opportunities for robust public participation, enable customer engagement and empowerment, and provide delivery service rates that are affordable for low-income customers. On the decarbonization side, utilities must reduce interconnection times for distributed energy resources, increase capacity for them, and further analyze the potential benefits of distributed energy. By January 20, 2023, the utilities will file their first Multi-Year Integrated Grid Plans, which will kick off a formal legal review process at the ICC throughout the remainder of 2023.

Sticking to the Plan

ELPC and our advocacy partners and allies—including the Citizens Utility Board, Natural Resources Defense Council, Union of Concerned Scientists, Vote Solar, and the City of Chicago—intend to participate in this formal review process alongside other community groups and environmental justice advocates. ELPC intends to urge the ICC to “stick to the plan” objectives of CEJA, including reducing energy use and emissions, ensuring affordability, protecting public health, and promoting the equitable and rapid deployment of local solar, battery storage and other distributed clean energy resources. Illinois, and those communities most affected by grid planning, need the ICC to be ambitious.

In doing so, the Commission can be responsive to the Act’s intent that the initial Grid Plans be shaped by stakeholder input and will help ensure that the state’s planning process reflects regional and national best practices, as required by CEJA. Accessible, clear, and complete data will give advocates, community organizations, and the Commission the ability to see where and for whom the grid is failing—a necessary step for a more equitable grid.

Eric Sippert,

ACLS Leading Edge Fellow/Policy Analyst

Eric Sippert is an ACLS Leading Edge Fellow and Policy Analyst at ELPC, where he works to advance equitable and inclusive climate change solutions.

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