By Sun-Times Editorial Board
Any energy legislation that is passed by the Illinois Legislature this spring must do one thing above all: keep the lid on the price of electricity for average people.
As water and natural gas prices have jumped in recent years, we have witnessed the trauma of huge numbers of people falling behind on paying their bills.
Last year, 253,489 of Peoples Gas’ 869,000 Chicago customers — 29 percent — were at risk of disconnection because they were behind on their payments. In February, WBEZ reported that Chicago residents have more than $210 million in unpaid water bills, and the Department of Water Management has shut off water service to tens of thousands of households.
We can’t allow that happen again with respect to electric bills. Chicagoans in particular, who also have been hit by several recent property tax hikes, are hurting enough.
A state energy bill that went into effect two years ago — the Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act — has been a big success in keeping down costs while promoting green energy. But it’s time for an updated bill that provides more funding for infrastructure investment and renewable energy. Several proposed energy bills are floating around Springfield and likely, in the end, will be merged into a single omnibus bill.
It’s critical that the final bill is designed to prevent ratepayers from having to dig deeper into their pockets.
Illinois residential customers have the lowest average electricity bills in the Midwest. This is partly because legislation over the years has included ways to cut costs — by creating greater financial incentives to use less energy — even as it has made renewable energy a bigger priority.
Let’s keep going down that environment-friendly, business-friendly and consumer-friendly road.
Of the several energy bills under consideration in Springfield, only one — a bill favored by the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition — aims at avoiding higher bills even as it pursues an ambitious environmental agenda. The bill sets a goal of making Illinois’ power grid free of carbon-based fuels by 2030, and powering the entire state with renewable energy by 2050.
The Clean Jobs Coalition plan also envisions a greater use of electric vehicles, mass transit and other alternatives to gasoline-powered and diesel-powered vehicles. It also puts an emphasis on creating green jobs in renewable energy industries in economically challenged communities.
To offset higher costs, the legislation would require utilities to trim usage during peak demand, which is the time of the day or the week when electricity is most costly. It also would reduce the “reserve margin,” or surplus power, Illinois is required to pay for.
The aim is to keep household electricity bills reasonable while maintaining Illinois’ position as a national leader in efforts to convert to renewable energy.
“A lot of the one-off bills are actually rate increases,” says Pete Giangreco, a consultant to the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition. “[But] if you pull it all together, there really is a way to keep the lid on rates for consumers.”
It’s important that the states take the lead on green energy because the Trump administration has moved in the opposite direction. One good sign is that earlier this month, officials from Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin quietly gathered in Chicago to talk about what they are doing about climate change — the first cooperative discussion on the subject among Midwestern states in more than 10 years, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“Because of what’s happening — or more accurately not happening — under the Trump administration, it is now up to the states to take matters into their own hands,” state Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, told us. “We have the opportunity to take steps on a state level to … contribute to the fight against climate change.”
Illinois can do right by the environment and your monthly power bill at the same time.