Monday, July 25, 2005

ICC adopts governor's plan on sustainable energy

ICC adopts governor's plan on sustainable energy

July 20, 2005

BY MARY WISNIEWSKI Business Reporter

Renewable energy sources like wind and sun could supply 8 percent of Illinois' electric supply by 2013, under an energy plan adopted by a regulatory commission Tuesday.

After five months of discussion with ComEd, Ameren and other stakeholders, the Illinois Commerce Commission adopted Gov. Blagojevich's Sustainable Energy Plan.

Under the voluntary plan, Illinois' electric utilities will begin acquiring 2 percent of their electricity from sources such as wind and methane captured from landfills by the end of 2006, ramping up in 1 percentage point annual increments to 8 percent.

"With oil, natural gas and coal prices at near record highs, the governor's plan offers Illinois rate payers a hedge against high energy prices," said Commissioner Bob Lieberman. The ICC changed the deadline to meet the 2 percent target in the governor's plan to 2007 from 2006, to allow utilities enough time to enter contracts.

"We'll be soliciting bids from wind developers. We hope to conclude that by the end of the year," said Arlene Juracek, ComEd vice president of energy acquisition.

Besides creating alternatives to fossil fuel, the energy plan is also intended to create jobs and income in rural areas -- the likely spots for wind farms -- and achieve cleaner air. A total of 75 percent of utility's renewable energy portfolio will come from wind energy.

More than a dozen new wind energy projects are planned for Illinois, including the world's biggest wind farm in McLean County, which will have several hundred wind turbines capable of producing 400 megawatts of power, according to Steve Frenkel, senior environmental and energy policy adviser for Illinois. The farm is being developed by Texas-based Zilkha Renewable Energy

"The goal is to get the wind farms built in 2006 to take advantage of the federal renewable tax credits that expire by the end of the year," Frenkel said.

The ICC staff proposed that expenditures on renewable energy should not be permitted to increase rates for customers by more than half a percent in any one year, or by more than 2 percent cumulatively.

Investment and development in wind farms are expected to pick up speed because of the plan.

"If the governor's plan is carried forward, it will result in significant development of wind power in Illinois," said Stefan Noe, president of Chicago-based Midwest Wind Energy, which developed the Crescent Ridge wind farm project. "Illinois stands to be one of the leading states" in this technology, Noe said.

Illinois currently gets only one-half of one percent of its electricity from renewable sources.

The energy plan also includes an efficiency component, under which utilities will create programs to reduce 10 percent of electricity demand by 2007 by helping customers invest in energy-saving equipment and technology. The target is to cut 25 percent off Illinois' increasing energy demand by 2015.

Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, who will chair a state advisory council to monitor the plan's implementation, said he would have preferred the goals were mandatory. However, he said it's a "good step forward" for "all-American energy."

Pros, cons and hows of wind power
Wind turbines in rural Illinois don't look like the windmills jousted by Don Quixote, or painted in blue onto Delft china.

They're sleek and metal, like the pinwheel of a giant robot child. Wind energy is the world's fastest growing energy technology, and is one of the lowest-cost renewable energy sources, according to the Energy Department's Web site. The state of Illinois' recommendation calls for 75 percent of a utility's renewable energy portfolio to come from the wind.

According to the DOE, turbines operate like this: The wind turns the blades, which spin a shaft, which connects to a generator, which makes electricity. The electricity is sent through transmission and distribution lines to homes and businesses.

An advantage of wind turbines as opposed to other power sources is that they are clean. They don't burn fossil fuels or generate nuclear waste. A disadvantage is that wind is intermittent, and doesn't always blow when energy is wanted. Also, birds can get killed in the blades.

One reason Illinois is a good place to build wind farms is that while there are states with gustier winds, Illinois has a robust electrical grid and a large population, which eases distribution, according to Steve Frenkel, senior environmental and energy policy adviser for Illinois.

--Mary Wisniewski