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Vital Illinois Renewable Energy Reforms Tied to Controversial Coal Legislation

By Kevin Borgia on April 6, 2012

Midwest Energy News published an excellent piece describing the status of Renewable Portfolio Standards across the region today, including a concise description of pending reforms to the Illinois RPS, which are currently tied to controversial clean coal provisions. From the article:

Illinois established its 25-percent-by-2025 renewable standard in 2007, but the state’s competitive electricity market has limited utilities’ investments in new renewable energy projects.

Customers in Illinois can choose to purchase power from one of the state’s major utilities or any number of alternative suppliers, which pay a fee to sell their electricity across the utilities’ wires. Customers can also change electric companies much like cell phone carriers. This makes long-term planning a challenge for utilities and suppliers, because the number of customers fluctuates from month to month.

“A renewable energy developer needs long term certainty to build a wind project,” says Kevin Borgia, director of the Illinois Wind Energy Coalition. They can’t currently get that certainty from Illinois utilities, which have been meeting their RPS goals so far by purchasing renewable energy credits instead of investing in new projects.

A solution has been proposed in S.B. 678, which would establish a transmission tariff that would be used to fund renewable projects. The legislation would spread the cost of renewable investments proportionally across all utilities and electric suppliers, creating a steady stream of funding regardless of how customers move their dollars.

The bill is a broader piece of energy legislation that includes the controversial Tenaska Energy coal gasification project, which has overshadowed the renewable portfolio standard reforms. Borgia argues that it may be the most important renewable energy legislation in the region, considering Illinois has the Midwest’s largest electricity load.

“The most important renewable energy bill currently pending in the Illinois House is also the most important coal bill pending in the Illinois House,” says Borgia.

That’s made for some interesting bedfellows and a set of political dynamics that make it tough to predict how it will play out, Borgia says. The bill has cleared the Senate and is currently sitting with the House rules committee. The state’s legislative session lasts through the end of next month.

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