September 16, 2011

I Moved My Blog

I no longer post to this site - check out for my posts, plus other great updates from other Illinois Sierra Club leaders.

See you there!

May 11, 2011

Getting the Smart Grid Right

You've probably seen or heard the ads from Commonwealth Edison supporting the "smart grid", and their proposal for how to pay for it. In an attempt to pass legislation authorizing automatic increases in our electric bills to pay for the work, ComEd is pulling out all the stops.

We do need to invest in our electric grid. Our current electric infrastructure was built around old, dirty energy sources of the past. Old equipment wastes energy as it loses power on its way to your house, and conventional electric meters don't give you the information you need to be the smartest energy consumer you can be. The old grid won't deliver the clean energy future we all want and need to create jobs in the new energy economy, clean the air, and solve global climate change. So ComEd is right that the time is right for smart grid, but their proposal (House Bill 14 in Illinois' General Assembly) misses the mark.

A truly "smart" grid will not just upgrade old wires and meters. It will also include a policy overhaul to make sure that the new grid is fully open to renewable energy, like solar, wind, and geothermal energy. Illinois has gained over 10,000 jobs in clean energy – mostly in large-scale wind and solar energy projects in rural parts of our state. Small-scale renewable energy, such as rooftop solar or wind projects, offer an opportunity to create at least that many jobs in all parts of Illinois, but existing barriers have constrained the growth of these industries. Up to now, ComEd's strong opposition has blocked crews of electricians, laborers, and other workers from turning our large rooftops into clean energy sources.

Two proposals to remove these barriers include House Bill 1913 (May), which would allow large rooftop owners to benefit from installing renewable energy by crediting their electric bill with any power they generate; and House Bill 1943 (Williams), which would require a portion of the clean energy sold to Illinois ratepayers to come from rooftop projects. Together, these proposals will bring the clean energy economy benefits that many rural areas are now seeing into our cities and suburbs. Any large rooftop - think a big box store, office park, warehouse, etc. - could be a small solar plant, contributing pollution-free electrons to the grid, making it more stable and resilient to price spikes in fossil fuels. With unemployment among building tradesmen and women above 30% and even 40% in some areas, unleashing rooftop renewables is a great way to quickly create jobs when we need them most.

Updating the grid will cost money, but done right, we can also make sure that it saves money. Maximizing our energy conservation programs are a permanent consumer protection, allowing residential and business customers to cut bills by deploying the best energy saving technologies. House Bills 1422 and 3055 (Nekritz) are two different strategies for protecting consumers through energy efficiency upgrades. HB 1422 would allow companies that can reduce energy use to compete with those who produce energy to supply our power needs. HB 3055 would remove existing constraints on how much utilities are allowed to spend to help you save energy. These two approaches work together to ensure that Illinois electric customers receive the full potential bill-lowering benefits of energy efficiency. Instead of an automatic rate hike, these conservation proposals offer the gifts that keep on giving - permanent cuts in bills of the future.

ComEd's proposal ignores these timely solutions. Governor Quinn this week announced that he would veto House Bill 14, and instead called for a comprehensive energy policy that prioritizes energy efficiency and renewable power. Quinn is right on the mark - the process of modernizing Illinois’ electric grid offers a tremendous opportunity to create clean energy jobs, save energy, and reduce pollution. Quinn also wants to make sure the grid of the future is ready for electric vehicles, so that the plug-in cars that will start to arrive in showrooms this year will work for all who choose them - whether you park in a garage, on the street, or you're buying a fleet for your company.

Now is the time, when the General Assembly will consider how to pay for modernizing the grid, to remove the last century’s barriers to the clean energy economy of the future. Join us in telling your state legislator to make sure that we get the smart grid right.

March 14, 2011

Quinn Vetoes Coal Plant Bailouts

We applaud Governor Quinn's veto of ratepayer bailouts for two risky, dirty coal plants. Governor Quinn has long been a champion for clean energy and for consumers, and the special interest legislation for Leucadia and Power Holdings were bad for both.

Regarding the Power Holdings legislation (SB 1927), Quinn said:
As we lead the way out of this historic recession, we must always be mindful of the effect our policies will have on the people of Illinois. Not only must new projects and policies be designed to improve our environment and expand our economy, they must also distribute burdens more proportionally among residential users and businesses and provide greater protections against cost overruns and higher energy prices. Unfortunately, the bill before me today falls short of these goals.
And regarding the Leucadia proposal (SB 3388), Quinn said:
Our priorities must be economic growth, consumer protection, environmental quality and a comprehensive approach to energy generation and efficiency. The bill before me today does not fully achieve these goals. This bill exposes citizens throughout Illinois to the long-term risks of fluctuating energy prices. To ensure greater consumer protection, consumers should be given full priority to access any reserve account and a more substantial financial commitment to the account should be made. By requiring utilities to enter substantially equal sourcing agreements, this bill also places the burden of higher energy costs on a small group of residential consumers.

Inadequate consumer protections and high energy costs will not create jobs in Illinois. Until I am satisfied that consumers are protected, burdens are shared, and jobs are created, I will not affix my signature to this bill.

There will be no easy answer that solves all our energy needs. The energy of the past must be developed cleaner and more efficiently, while we invest in the energy of the future.
Trying to turn coal into natural gas will raise heating bills and cause more air pollution - it just doesn't make sense. Illinois ratepayers can thank Governor Quinn for saving them from a big rate hike to bail out these two plants.

We expect these two coal plants to keep pushing for ratepayers to pay more to bail out their risky projects. We call on legislators to say no - especially in these economic times, we should focus on clean energy job creation strategies that have proven to work. We've created over 10,000 jobs in clean energy in recent years by encouraging competition (rather than special deals for individual companies), betting on proven technology like wind and solar, and protecting consumers. Thank you, Governor Quinn, for staying that course - it's clearly the best for our economy and our future.

February 28, 2011

Flores Out at ICC; Doug Scott In

We applaud Gov. Quinn's nomination of Illinois EPA Director Doug Scott as Chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission. Illinois' air and water are cleaner today because of Doug Scott's work at IEPA, and he has been a champion for cleaner energy sources. His work on clean energy will be very important at the ICC, which can play an important role in helping Illinois save energy and moving to a cleaner energy future.

We are very disappointed that the Illinois Senate did not act to confirm Acting ICC Chairman Manuel Flores. Although the ICC did not act on Gov. Quinn's nomination of Flores for a full year, Flores made the most of his time at the ICC, where he fought to protect consumers and the environment. Flores fought to cut utility bills through energy conservation, showed the public the exorbitant costs of the proposed Taylorville coal plant, and was taking steps to make sure Illinois is ready for electric cars. If Flores' work for the public interest made him a target of powerful utilities, and cost him his job, then that is a shame. We call on the Senate to move quickly to confirm Doug Scott so he can get to work for the public with the full confidence that Illinois' leaders stand behind him.

Doug Scott leaves big shoes to fill at Illinois EPA. We may not have always agreed with every decision IEPA made during Scott's tenure, but he has always been fair, accessible, and committed to the public interest. We hope Governor Quinn will quickly nominate a new IEPA Director with a similarly strong commitment to protecting our land, air, and water, and moving Illinois to a cleaner energy future.

January 25, 2011

600 New Energy Jobs for Southern Illinois - Without Rate Hikes or New Pollution

To hear the coal lobbyists in Springfield tell it, creating energy jobs in Illinois has to mean higher electric and gas bills, more pollution, and sweetheart deals for specific companies.

Meanwhile, in the real world, there's more good news about how our renewable energy goals are bringing good jobs to Illinois, without all the risk and costs of the Tenaska, Leucadia, or Power Holdings bills.

Illinois' commitment to wind is bringing 600 new jobs to Pike County this year - with more to come:
PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- A St. Louis wind energy company plans to develop a 150-megawatt wind farm in Pike County west of Pittsfield, with the total cost of the project expected to be between $250 million and $300 million. Trey Goede, CEO of Affinity Wind, confirmed that his company is planning a 36-megawatt wind farm, which could become operational in the fourth quarter of this year, and a 114-megawatt expansion in 2012. The company plans to construct 75 2-megawatt wind turbines. Affinity announced last week that it closed a joint venture agreement with Chicago-based Suzlon Wind Energy Corp., a subsidiary of Indian-based Suzlon Energy Limited. The two companies will develop the wind farm under the venture called Surity Wind, LLC. ....

Affinity Wind estimated that more than $44 million would be spent locally during construction and $3 million annually once completed, with approximately 600 jobs created. More than $1 million in property taxes would be generated along with lease payments toward landowners. Goede said his idea has been received well in Pike County. "We have had landowners committed from day one, and they have provided their allegiance to the project and partnership to the project very early on," he said. "We are adding more landowners as we speak."
Of course, these jobs aren't the result of a special interest "Affinity bill", or "Suzlon bill". They are the result of our Renewable Portfolio Standard, which, unlike the Tenaska, Leucadia, and Power Holdings bills, keeps utility bills low, invites competition, and invests in proven technology.

Clearly, the fastest, cheapest, cleanest way to create clean energy jobs for Illinois is to stay the course, and continue to prioritize renewables and energy conservation.

January 05, 2011

Filling Daley's Big Green Shoes

With the race to be Chicago's next mayor heating up, one major issue that has been a hallmark of Mayor Richard Daley's time in office has received little attention so far - what is to become of Mayor Daley's goal of being the greenest city in America, if not the world, after he steps down in May.

Daley's passion for the environment is well known, and has brought major changes that will benefit Chicagoans for generations to come. His efforts have reached far beyond median planters and other beautification efforts - the changes you don't see every day have been less visible, but much more significant. Across city government, public servants have been tasked with being smarter about how they use energy, and cutting the waste they create. Building codes and permitting processes have led the private sector to change how they build homes and businesses in Chicago.

Chicago's leadership has been important beyond our city or state boundaries. During the Bush Administration, when national action to confront climate change or move to cleaner energy wasn't even seriously discussed, Daley was an early leader in a nationwide movement of mayors who pledged not to wait for a change in Washington to fight global warming. Chicago and other "cool cities" started showing America what fighting climate change looked like, and it looked like cleaner air, reduced government costs, better, smarter buildings, and many more bright ideas.

Daley's vision for greening Chicago has been revolutionary, but it has not yet been fully realized. Chicago is still home to two very old coal-fired power plants without modern pollution controls. Most Chicagoans don't have access to convenient, weekly recycling service. The Chicago River is much cleaner, but still suffers from outdated sewage treatment practices. The artificial connection between Lake Michigan and the Des Plaines/Illinois River has been great for sending Chicago's sewage southwest to Peoria, St. Louis, and the Gulf of Mexico, but it has opened the door to Great Lakes invasive species. Our park system is wonderful, but more than ever our kids need access to safe, healthy, outdoor experiences in their neighborhoods.

Whether Chicago meets these challenges, and reaps the health and job creation benefits of doing so, depends in large part on its next mayor, and whether he or she brings passion and commitment to doing so. That's why Sierra Club and other Chicago environmental organizations have prepared a platform of the major issues facing the next mayor.

Sierra Club is actively meeting candidates for Mayor and City Council, identifying those who have the ideas and commitment to make Chicago the greenest city on the planet. Soon we will announce our endorsements of the candidates we recommend to all the Chicagoans who want the "city that works" to be the city that leads America and the world to a smarter, cleaner future.

January 04, 2011

Big Coal Feeding Frenzy In Springfield

As the clock winds down on the lame duck Illinois General Assembly, two out-of-state coal companies are asking to put Illinois ratepayers and businesses on the hook for a bailout of their risky, incredibly expensive projects. The two companies, Tenaska and Leucadia, each have custom-drafted bills they are pressuring the Illinois Senate to approve this week, hoping that Springfield won't look at them like the private market has - like overpriced, risky experiments not worth the gamble.

Both Tenaska and Leucadia offer something Illinois already has in abundance - electricity and natural gas. We already generate more electricity than we consume, so we export power out of state (keeping the nuclear waste and most of the pollution here.) Not only do we not need their product, but they want us to pay at least double the market price for it. Why are we even considering this proposition? Hey, remember, this is Springfield.

Tenaska is looking for money to build their coal plant in Taylorville, southwest of Springfield. Tenaska would finance their project by socking it to the state's largest electric customers - stores, businesses, local governments, hospitals, colleges, and others. For example, CTA riders, University of Illinois students, hospital patients, and local taxpayers would all be asked to pay more. On our electric bill at home, we'll also be chipping in an annual 2% increase to add to the subsidy.

Leucadia wants to build a plant to turn coal and hazardous oil refinery waste into the natural gas we use to heat our homes. Unlike Tenaska, Leucadia proposes to protect businesses from their rate hike, turning to homes and apartments to bear their costs. Some gas bills would go up over $100 per year.

Neither Tenaska or Leucadia have gotten their permits from the Illinois EPA. Neither has a plan in place to deal with the millions of tons of global warming pollution they will add to the air. Those are details they say they'll work out after we're all on the hook - for 30 years.

Proponents say all this cost and all this risk is the price we pay to see whether coal can ever be "clean." (No claims are made that future coal mining will be "clean", or in any way different from the practices that are destroying Illinois farmland and degrading water supplies.) For those who want to see Illinois experiment with coal gasification, the recent growth of Illinois' renewable energy sector is a better model. In jumpstarting our wind and solar industries, the legislature included some key safeguards. First, consumers are protected by a rate impact cap, which ensures that renewable technologies are developed aggressively without price impacts. Second, our renewable energy goals are met by an annual competitive bidding process, encouraging innovation and price competition in the market. Finally, our clean energy laws rely on proven technologies like wind, solar, and geothermal energy, and energy conservation - all ready to deploy without environmental risk.

Those smart safeguards for deploying new energy technologies have already created over 10,000 new jobs in Illinois, and more are in the pipeline. The Tenaska and Leucadia proposals ignore, and contradict, all of those principles. Instead of protecting against rate hikes, increases for every customer in the state, large and small, are hard wired into the two proposals. Instead of encouraging competition to meet a policy goal, these are truly special interest pieces of legislation - they're referred to around the Statehouse as the "Tenaska" and "Leucadia" bills for a reason. When politicians name winners in the marketplace, trouble often ensues. And rather than deploying proven technology, each of these projects are highly speculative, with the greatest uncertainties about whether or how they will deal with the millions of tons of new global warming pollution they will produce each year.

In recent years, the Illinois Senate has been getting a lot right in moving to a clean energy future. This week we'll see if they keep to a path that creates good jobs while protecting ratepayers, or whether they capitulate to big coal's feeding frenzy.