Commentary: Illinois clean energy bill would prevent unprecedented rate hikes

David Kolata | Energy News Network

Illinois must have been doing something right on clean energy for President Trump’s appointees to step in and try to stop it.

That’s exactly what they did late last year when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a ruling that would slam northern Illinois with up to $864 million a year in higher power bills. That could be the biggest electric increase in state history — bad news for the state’s consumers and businesses. But we have the ability to prevent it, with the Clean Energy Jobs Act.

What big “problem” were the Trump appointees trying to solve? It’s that our electric bills are too low. They said it themselves in the FERC order, complaining that state programs supporting cleaner forms of energy “are growing at a rapid pace” and “will increasingly have the ability to suppress … market prices.”

Lower market prices and more clean energy are not a bad thing. In fact, it’s good for the economy: Illinois’ clean energy workforce now employs more than 123,000 residents, nearly four times what the fossil fuel industry employs.

Also, thanks to the Future Energy Jobs Act, groundbreaking legislation passed in 2016, electricity prices have stayed down and energy efficiency programs have saved consumers hundreds of millions of dollars. (We’ve had the lowest average power bills in the Midwest for seven straight years).

But all that is threatened by this FERC ruling engineered by the White House. Its plan will artificially increase the prices we pay for what’s known as long-term “capacity” — by up to $864 million a year.

As the General Assembly and Gov. J.B. Pritzker work to increase renewable energy and decarbonize the electricity sector, electrify the transportation sector, and create clean energy jobs, reforming the capacity market must be included in this comprehensive effort.

Capacity payments are buried among the supply costs on our power bills. It’s what we pay big power generators for the promise to have enough electricity on hand when demand skyrockets, like on a steamy summer day. Illinois energy policy supports cleaner forms of electricity — but FERC’s ruling skews the rules to funnel more money to dirty and more expensive electricity.

In effect, Illinois consumers will be forced to pay for dirty power we don’t need — and that will have devastating consequences for consumers, businesses and the environment. But it’s not inevitable.

If Illinois passes the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA), we can prevent the Trump rate hike and actually lower electricity bills from what we pay today.

Under CEJA, the Illinois Power Agency (IPA) would take on capacity planning. The IPA already handles the buying of electricity for ComEd customers and it has done an excellent job securing savings. CEJA simply gives the IPA the additional power to plan capacity so that we can affordably achieve 100 percent clean energy in Illinois.

Driving that message home, CEJA contains ironclad consumer protections that guarantee cost savings for ComEd customers over what we currently pay for electricity.

This FERC ruling is a challenge to Illinois from a president who has made no secret of his desire to bail out the coal industry. In his dissent of the ruling, FERC Commissioner Richard Glick confirmed that, describing the order as “a multi-billion-dollar-per-year rate hike” for electric customers in a dozen states, including Illinois.

“It’s a bailout, plain and simple,” he continued. “Today’s order serves one overarching purpose: To slow the transition to a clean energy future.”

We have a clear choice here in Illinois: We can take the power back and invest in clean, affordable energy. Or we can be bullied and pay more for dirty power we don’t need or want.

It’s time to fight back, take the power back, and pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act.

Read the article at Energy News Network.