A row of homes in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Ian Freimuth via Creative Commons)
In the past two years, scores of communities across the Midwest, particularly in Illinois, have adopted municipal aggregation of their electricity supplies, wherein city officials break with long-standing utilities and decide where to buy cheaper and often cleaner electricity from alternative suppliers on behalf of residents.
Chicago is among the most recent, and with the city’s vast buying power, renewable energy advocates are hoping to use the opportunity to make a significant dent in pollution and carbon emissions.
However, if the experience of another Midwest state is any indicator, whether that actually happens could be difficult to determine.
Ohio was one of the first states to enact legislation allowing municipalities to aggregate, adding the concept to the legislation that deregulated the state’s energy market in 2001. Currently at least 220 Ohio communities have chosen electric aggregation, and 120 have adopted natural gas aggregation, according to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. And in the last two years at least 160 new electric aggregator broker companies have gotten state certification.
Ohio provides an interesting case study in the ways aggregation can play out; especially since it is historically known as a coal state: the fifth-most coal-dependent in the country according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, with a powerful mining industry and 20 major coal-fired power plants (though about half of them are scheduled to close in coming years).
Ohio also symbolizes the way aggregation can be a complicated mix of idealism and pragmatism, of making realistic deals in the present while hoping for more sweeping changes in the future.
(Photo by Josh Koonce via Creative Commons)
CHICAGO — Chicago’s City Council passed an ordinance Wednesday approving municipal aggregation and a contract with Integrys Energy Services to provide the city’s electricity.
Where that electricity will ultimately be sourced from, however, remains unclear.
Aldermen voted 50-0 and heaped praise on the aggregation plan, which the city projects will save households on average $150 by the end of the contract in May 2015.
“We sent a clear message to the country,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel after the vote. “Not only does the vote send a clear message, it made sure families who live paycheck to paycheck will get what suburban residents have been getting for a while – savings on their utility bills .”
The contract with Integrys will ban electricity from coal-fired generation, which currently provides about 40 percent of the city’s mix. The city has also announced a commitment to renewable energy and energy efficiency investments, though any specific requirements remain to be seen in the contract, which is expected to be finalized within the next few days.
Solar panels at the University of Illinois, Chicago. (Photo by Adam Gimpert via Creative Commons)
When Chicago voters approved municipal aggregation on Election Day, some celebrated the possibilities offered by breaking with utility ComEd for alternative providers, while others worried whether it would be a wash or even a blow for renewable energy.
Paul Fenn, a Bay Area energy law and policy expert known as a father of the community choice aggregation (CCA) movement – roughly the same concept as municipal aggregation – cast his lot with the former group.
Chicago officials have stressed that cost savings are their priority, and local experts say the impact on renewables remains to be seen, especially since a fix to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard is needed to spur renewable growth.
But Fenn thinks that with an aggressive and creative approach, Chicago can have its cake and eat it too – generating cost savings while sparking a boom of local and regional renewable energy construction; creating solar, co-generation, wind and other energy installations owned largely by the city and individual residents.
He thinks that in five years, Chicago could be getting 50 to 75 percent of its energy from local or regional renewables. He envisions rooftop solar PV on homes, businesses and municipal buildings; wind or solar installations on vacant land, co-owned by surrounding neighbors; waste heat captured from downtown buildings and factories to generate hundreds of megawatts of electricity. And massive investments in energy efficiency to greatly reduce the city’s overall energy demand.
Early voting in Chicago, Nov. 3, 2012. (Photo by pmonaghan via Creative Commons)
Chicago voters have approved a ballot referendum authorizing the city to move forward with municipal aggregation, wherein the city will buy electricity on behalf of close to one million residents.
City officials had promoted aggregation primarily as a way to save money for ratepayers, compared to the rates they would have been paying to get electricity through the utility ComEd. Meanwhile popular support for aggregation was driven largely by the hope that it will facilitate the purchase of more renewable energy and ideally the creation of new renewable generation.
Unofficial returns from the Chicago Board of Elections show the measure passing with 56 percent approval.
Voters in 221 Illinois municipalities also faced ballot referendums dealing with aggregation Tuesday.
A wind turbine on Chicago’s South Side. (Photo by Plant Chicago via Creative Commons)
CHICAGO – As Chicago moves closer to a decision on whether to adopt municipal aggregation for electricity, advocates are hoping the city’s purchasing power can be used to advance renewable energy.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently reiterated his support for the proposal, and the city launched an informational website and on Tuesday held the first of four community meetings to inform residents about the issue.
Backers are emphasizing cost savings as the top priority and the main motivation for municipal aggregation, in which the city would decide from which utility companies to purchase electricity for almost one million residents.