(Photo by Brian Koprowski via Creative Commons)
Leading investors in Chicago strongly favor government investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy, and they see the clean energy sector as a good personal investment, according to a survey released recently by Morgan Stanley.
Chicago investors are significantly more interested in clean energy than are investors nationwide, the survey found. And Chicago investors are less interested in gas and oil investments than their national counterparts.
Nuclear energy critics were encouraged by the release of a voluminous report by Illinois officials last week examining the possible impacts if three of Exelon’s financially troubled nuclear plants in Illinois were to shut down.
They pointed to report findings that electricity supplies would not be seriously affected by closures, and that clean energy investments could partially mitigate the job losses and economic impacts.
But Exelon also praised the findings in the report, and said it supports the company’s assertions about the need for state action to avoid plant closures.
“Several of Illinois’ nuclear facilities, including the Byron, Quad Cities and Clinton stations, have been experiencing major annual losses in the past few years, and continuing to operate them at a loss would defy common business sense,” said Exelon spokesman Paul Elsberg. “If we do not see a path to sustainable profitability emerge for them, we will consider all options, including unit shutdowns.”
Bowling Green, Ohio. (Photo by Pierre Metivier via Creative Commons)
By Neocles Leontis
All across the Midwest, communities manacled to Prairie State Energy Campus are seeing their electricity rates go through the roof.
These small towns and cities, which include Paducah, Ky., Batavia, Ill., Galion, Ohio, and Bowling Green, Ohio—where I live—invested heavily in Prairie State Energy Campus after being sold a promise in 2007 of 50 years of cheap, clean, and reliable coal-fired electric power.
That promise was engineered by Peabody Energy and its utility-industry and Wall Street allies. The Prairie State Energy Campus web that ultimately ensnared so many communities came about mostly because Peabody had a mine full of dirty, low-grade coal to unload. The dream, as it was pitched, boiled down to this: Prairie State would operate off cheap coal from a Peabody mine just across the street, and the plant—in part because of its “mine-mouth” location—would be a low-cost generator providing customer communities with affordable electricity that would cost in the ballpark of $48 per megawatt hour.
Exelon’s Byron Generating Station in Illinois. (Photo by Michael Kappel via Creative Commons)
Has Exelon been crying wolf?
Or should the state intervene to help the Chicago-based corporation’s nuclear plants prevent closures that could hurt the economy and endanger the electric supply?
A 269-page report created by four Illinois state agencies and released Wednesday sheds light on these questions. The multi-faceted findings defy clear conclusions, but they generally support the idea that Illinois can weather nuclear plant closures; and such shut-downs could even bolster clean energy generation and jobs.
Exelon critics say the report is vindication, showing the company is not in crisis or deserving of government “bailouts.”
Illinois Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner visits the statehouse on Dec. 2. (AP Photo / Seth Perlman)
Following recent GOP election gains, efficiency advocates are taking a glass-half-full approach, emphasizing bipartisan support for efficiency mandates and missions, including among Republicans like Illinois Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner.
That was the message of the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance in a teleconference on Wednesday analyzing the effect of the November elections for governor and state legislature in 13 states where Republicans were generally victorious.
But there is also uncertainty ahead in the energy efficiency landscape, namely in three states – all with Republican governors and legislative majorities – where rollbacks of energy efficiency mandates have occurred.
Gov. John Kasich was re-elected in Ohio, and Gov. Mike Pence is still in office in Indiana, up for re-election in 2016. In those states, majority Republican legislatures this year passed bills freezing and ending, respectively, the states’ mandates for increased energy efficiency.
A former coal mine site in southern Illinois has become the focal point of a legal fight over state regulation. (Image via Google Maps)
Around the turn of the millennium, southern Illinois environmental consultant Bob Johnson would drive by a six-story-high grassy plateau and imagine the ways the reclaimed coal mine waste storage site could be put to “higher or better” use than its previous life as farmland.
Those words are enshrined in the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMRCA), the federal law that requires mine sites to be returned to an approximation of their natural contours and to uses at least as beneficial as their previous incarnation.
“I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we could put baseball fields on top of this mound of waste, from the highway you’d see them up in the air, people would be enjoying it, wouldn’t that be great?” said Johnson.
But far from becoming sports fields, the waste dump has become the grounds for a legal demand, filed last month, that seeks a federal takeover of mining oversight in Illinois.
If granted, the decision could put a major chill on Illinois’s resurgent coal mining industry and spark the re-examination of numerous mining and waste permits previously issued by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR).
In Cook County, which includes Chicago, 41 percent of households are renters. (Photo by sabrina via Creative Commons)
Making the case for energy efficiency investments seems relatively straightforward for homeowners who will reap the benefits directly in lower utility bills. But for rental, multi-unit buildings where landlords pay for infrastructure and appliance upgrades while tenants pay all or most of the utility bills, it’s much more complicated.
This situation is referred to as a “split incentive,” where the party making the investment won’t directly reap all or any of the financial benefits.
Landlords who don’t live in a given building also don’t have the personal incentive of seeking a more comfortable dwelling free of drafts and temperature swings.
But energy efficiency measures like insulation, new furnaces, smart appliances and efficient lighting do pay off for building owners, a message the Chicago-based group Elevate Energy is working to convey statewide. Elevate Energy has a program specifically to educate multi-unit building owners about energy efficiency and assist them with free energy audits and advice on contractors and upgrades.
Illinois Science and Energy Innovation Foundation grantees tour Ameren facilities in downstate Illinois. (Photo courtesy ISEIF)
The smart meters being delivered to Illinois homes under the state’s 2011 smart grid law could potentially spark significant energy savings – relieving burden on the grid and on power supplies and saving money for residents.
But that’s only if people use the information provided by smart meters to modify their habits, by shifting when they use energy, installing more efficient appliances and the like. Figuring out how to use a smart meter and respond to the data it provides is a complicated and intimidating task for anyone.
It is especially challenging for renters and public housing residents who don’t own their appliances or even pay their own energy bills; or for senior citizens who don’t know how to use the internet; or for immigrants who don’t speak English. And for people in low-income and marginalized neighborhoods in general, beset by violence, decrepit housing, and a lack of well-paying jobs, understanding and modifying energy use is likely to be a very low priority.
Exelon’s nuclear power plant at Byron, Illinois. (Photo by Bill and Vicki T via Creative Commons)
©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Jeffrey Tomich
An executive for the nation’s largest nuclear generator said U.S. EPA’s proposed carbon plan, which designates 6 percent of the nation’s nuclear capacity “at risk” for retirement, provides little help to prop up financially struggling reactors.
“There’s not really much of an incentive,” Kathleen Barrón, senior vice president of federal regulatory affairs and wholesale market policy for Exelon Corp., told Illinois regulators.
Barrón’s comments came during an Illinois Commerce Commission policy session Tuesday on the state’s efforts to comply with the Obama administration’s plan for a 30 percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 2030.
The meeting was the second of three scheduled by the commission to discuss implementation of the EPA rule, which is expected to be finalized next summer and implemented a year or two after that. A third policy session is set for Nov. 6.
The Newton Power Station is one of five Illinois coal plants that Dynegy took over last year. (AP Photo/Jim Suhr, File)
Last year, Ameren Corp. basically paid Dynegy Inc. to take five aging coal plants in downstate Illinois off its hands.
Now Dynegy is seeking to make those plants more profitable, through changes to the way they are paid for capacity – potential future generation that can be called on if needed.
Critics of the plan say the changes would mean higher costs for ratepayers with little, if any, improvement in reliability.
The plants provide power to the utility Ameren Illinois, which is part of the Midwest Independent System Operator (MISO) regional transmission organization (RTO). MISO runs an annual capacity auction wherein generators are paid for power they will be prepared to provide if needed.