No more meter readers. No more calling the electric utility when the lights go out. And when a big storm does knock out power, those outages will be less widespread and shorter in duration.
That’s the brighter future promised for Illinois consumers served by utilities ComEd and Ameren after state legislators [in October] overrode Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto and passed into law smart grid legislation.
While sounding unequivocally positive, the legislation raised the ire of the governor and other critics because it also overhauls a century-old regulatory process for setting electricity rates and reduces oversight by the Illinois Commerce Commission.
Electricity rates currently are hashed out every few years in an 11-month-long court-like proceeding. Under the new law, rates will be based on a formula that sets the return on equity the utilities will receive. Utilities also will come before the ICC every year seeking rate hikes rather than every few years, reducing the lag time between when a new rate is approved and when the rate goes into effect. That change will provide the utilities with additional millions of dollars each year.
The $3.2 billion statewide smart grid build-out will begin next year. ComEd said it will likely take 10 years to complete its portion, and its 5.4 million customers will be charged an additional $3 per month to pay for the infrastructure during that time period; Ameren customers will be charged an additional $3.40 a year.
When the legislature overrode Governor Quinn’s veto, Illinois environmental groups praised the move:
“This will be a huge boost to clean energy in Illinois,” Illinois Sierra Club Director Jack Darin said. “We’ll see new jobs and businesses, and cleaner air as we move away from city coal. . . .A smarter power grid will also save consumers money by giving us new tools to manage our power consumption.”
Various provisions in the bill will allow rooftop owners to put up their own solar or wind power equipment, and increase the amount of power purchased from renewable sources, he says.
The Natural Resources Defense Council’s Rebecca Stanfield wrote that the bill “conservatively” will save as much power in the next six years as is used now by 150,000 average households — cutting electric bills by $650 million.
She adds, “The Illinois General Assembly is to be commended for recognizing the value of efficiency . . . and making sure that modernizing our electric system includes a big effort to do more with less energy.”
Adjunct Professor Carla Jones examines these issues in the online seminar SUST 310 Energy and Climate Change (currently underway and taking students for the summer offering). If you are interested in enrolling in one of our courses, find out more by visiting our Sustainability Studies website, calling 1-877-277-5978 (1-877-APPLY RU) or emailing applyRU@roosevelt.edu.