Julie Wernau, Chicago Tribune
If Illinois wants to meet President Barack Obama’s mandate to curb carbon dioxide pollution by 30 percent by 2030, it should invest heavily in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
That was the message Wednesday at a news conference organized by a coalition of labor, business and environmental groups and headlined by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The group announced it plans to push legislators in Springfield to fix the state’s renewable energy standard and increase its goals at the same time.
Under the group’s plan, 35 percent of the state’s energy would come from renewable sources by 2030, while at the same time, the state’s electricity load would be decreased by 20 percent by 2025. A key to making the plan work, the group said, would be taking bold energy efficiency measures.
Absent from the coalition was Chicago-based Exelon, which is pushing its own agenda in Springfield. It wants any “clean” power plan in the state to include its nuclear plants, which it said should be rewarded for doing the larger share of power production in the state without emitting carbon. Exelon, the parent company of Commonwealth Edison, has said three of its six nuclear power plants in the state could be closed.
Exelon in an email Wednesday said, “We have long been committed to transitioning the nation and Illinois to a clean energy future, and we operate the largest clean energy generation fleet in America. Illinois needs an all-of-the-above strategy that includes energy efficiency as well as the development and maintenance of zero-emission electricity generation from wind, nuclear, solar, hydro and other clean technologies. We look forward to working with policymakers and all stakeholders to reduce harmful air emissions and to maintain and expand Illinois’ position as the country’s leading clean electricity producer.”
The so-called Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition listed among its members a nuclear watchdog group in the state, several companies involved in solar power, wind power and energy efficiency, along with a bevy of environmental groups and consumer advocacy group Citizens Utility Board.
Asked how nuclear power fits into the coalition’s plans, Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, said, “There are some people who want to go and take us backward in order to move forward.”
Exelon’s power plants in the state have come under increasing financial pressure from power generated by wind turbines and natural gas plants. The company has warned that if it is forced to close nuclear plants, it will make it more difficult for the state to meet a federal rule to curb carbon emissions.
Environmental groups disagree, saying the state can easily meet the goals by ramping up efforts to shore up inefficient buildings and by building more renewable energy projects.
More than half the power produced in the state comes from coal and natural gas plants and renewable energy.
Illinois’ current goals are to have 25 percent of its energy generated by renewable sources and to cut its energy load by 13 percent by 2025.The state is behind in meeting those milestones because of a glitch in the wording of the law that has prevented such purchases from moving forward.
“We need to get our act together as a state,” said Emanuel, saying that while the state is home to more wind companies than any other state, it isn’t building enough wind power generators.
He called energy efficiency measures “low hanging fruit” and pointed to programs implemented under his watch to try to reduce the amount of energy used by buildings in Chicago.
A county ordinance that took effect last year requires large county-owned buildings to report their energy use and to be scored on efficiency.
Chicago has a similar ordinance, which applies to private and public buildings, that took effect in June 2014. That ordinance focuses on the 1 percent of large buildings that consume 22 percent of all energy used by buildings.
David Kolata, executive director of Citizens Utility Board, said energy efficiency should be helped along by a smart digital grid under construction by both legacy utilities in the state, Ameren Illinois and ComEd. Those utilities were not listed as part of the coalition.
“Ultimately,” Kolata said. “The best thing for consumers is to invest in energy efficiency.”