Rooftop Solar in Illinois

Howard's Blog

Howard A. Learner

While Ameren is Fighting Against Solar, Company Is Raising Its Dividend Again

Everyone knows that accelerating solar energy has overwhelmingly strong public support. ELPC and our environmental partners know it. Politicians know it from their polling. Utilities know it from their polling, too.

Ameren, which is Illinois’ second-largest electric utility, appears to have missed that memo. Ameren, which is Illinois’ second-largest electric utility, appears to have missed that memo. Or, perhaps, just doesn’t seem to care enough. Ameren has been attempting to put up regulatory barriers to rooftop solar, which ELPC’s clean energy team must then bat down before the Illinois Commerce Commission. These sorts of legally and technically complicated cases before state public utility regulatory commissions is where the “rubber hits the road” to achieve policies that promote, instead of regulatory barriers that impede, solar energy development.

It can’t be that Ameren is so hard-pressed for cash – Ameren has raised its dividend payout three times in just 15 months: once in December 2019, again in December 2020, and now again for March 2021. About a 16% dividend boost in total.

In the meantime, Ameren is trying to restrict economic “net metering” treatment for Illinois ratepayers to deter more rooftop solar projects.

Here’s how net metering works: when a building owner’s solar panels produce more electricity on a sunny day than the home, school or business is using, that extra electricity generation goes to the grid to help supply power to other Ameren customers. This is especially valuable power on a hot, sunny summer day when electricity demand is highest or when supplies are otherwise tight. More grid support, more reliability—benefiting all Ameren customers.

Net metering essentially means that the solar homeowner’s meter runs in both directions. So, if you generate more electricity from solar panels than you use on Monday, but less electricity than you use on Tuesday, that nets out at the same price. That’s fair.

Developing solar energy and making it work in all communities helps families save money on utility bills, creates local jobs and investments, and promotes healthier air for all to breathe.

Illinois’ net metering law is designed to spur solar energy investment and provide fair rate treatment. Once distributed solar generation makes up 5% of Ameren’s overall customer electricity load, however, the utility can then switch to a different compensation plan based on solar energy generation’s value to the grid.

Ameren tried to use some fuzzy math to jump the gun in declaring that it reached that 5% benchmark in order to prematurely cut off net metering and replace it with an inadequate rebate. ELPC attorneys Nikhil Vijaykar and Brad Klein, and our clean energy allies, fought back and won before the Illinois Commerce Commission.

In December, the Commissioners voted 4-1 in ruling that Ameren’s methodology was incorrect. The 5% benchmark for retail net metering is now estimated to be about two years from now. Ameren filed an appeal, and ELPC attorneys will be before the Illinois Appellate Court to uphold the Commission’s Order and keep solar projects moving forward in Illinois.

Ameren is also trying to hold down solar by urging the Commission to adopt a flawed compensation plan that’s not fair or aligned with Illinois’ growing solar market and overall clean energy goals. The ELPC team is fighting back again to get fair and effective solar energy valuation policies in place.

Local, rooftop solar and community-based solar energy projects benefit everyone. Developing solar energy and making it work in all communities helps families save money on utility bills, creates local jobs and investments, and promotes healthier air for all to breathe. Ameren’s “back to the past” approach to solar would deny these benefits to many people and businesses in central and southern Illinois.

ELPC’s clean energy advocates are winning the battles so far against Ameren. Let’s keep working together to win this solar war that should not have to be fought. Come on Ameren, step up to support rooftop and community solar projects for all.

Howard A. Learner,

President and Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

Howard Learner is an experienced attorney serving as the President and Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. He is responsible for ELPC’s overall strategic leadership, policy direction, and financial platform.

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