In 2016, our legislature did the impossible in Illinois - they passed a meaningful law. To show how remarkable this is, at that time, Governor Rauner and the legislature had been in a budget stalemate for two years. This law passing required a compromise between a huge utility monopoly, a democratically controlled legislature, and a republic governor.
This law, commonly referred to as the Future Energy Jobs Act, provides the architecture for the ComEd Energy Efficiency Program in Illinois. It was a strengthening of an existing energy efficiency law in Illinois, which was passed in 2007. The FEJA act not only improved the state of energy efficiency in our state, but it also went further to include renewable energy (solar PV production).
How did this law pass at such a time of indignation and fighting in our state? There were two key words - jobs and nuclear.
There was a huge coalition the pushed for training and job promotion around the already successful energy efficiency program in Illinois. In fact, my company had grown from just myself in 2010 to almost 25 energy efficiency jobs today, and we are 100% built out of this ecosystem from this law. Clean Energy Trust reports over 100,000 Clean Energy Jobs in Illinois in 2018. In a state that had struggled to recover from the Great Recession, this was an important topic of conversation among both parties. Ultimately, this is what I think drove Governor Rauner to support this bill.
Illinois has long produced a higher percentage of their power from nuclear energy than a majority of states, with almost 60% of electricity coming from Nuclear power plants in Illinois. While this source of electricity creates no carbon, there is some large debate about the environmental impact of nuclear power.
Exelon is the parent company of ComEd, our local utility monopoly in northern Illinois. Exelon has long had an aggressive nuclear portfolio and recently has had financial constraints after the US has failed to address a carbon tax or cap and trade legislation as expected. Exelon had been seeking financial support from the state to keep two nuclear power plants open, and this law was the opportunity to negotiate those terms.
There were also the normal and expected players at the table that helped negotiate this law, including environmentalists (Environmental Law and Policy Center, Elevate Energy), Democratic and Republican Politicians, as well as black and latino representative groups.
The law increased the already $240,000,000 of annual spending by ComEd in 2017 to $1.4 billion over 3 years from 2018 to 2020. On top of that, there is a minimum of $180,000,000 of spending for renewable energy - strengthening and hopefully fixing our existing renewable power standards.
With any compromise - it isn’t perfect. However, I was personally surprised when this law passed and I feel that nuclear power is an important part of curbing climate change. If electric vehicles continue to penetrate the marketplace, we will need consistent nighttime energy production to charge those batteries, and maximizing existing power plants that do not release carbon is a great plan. In addition, the technology to offset usage to lower cost and lower usage times of day will continue to develop and nuclear power helps support those.
Did you know that Illinois has real-time pricing for residential electricity? Check out more information and sign up at ComEd Real Time Pricing. I’ve used it for about 2 years and have saved around 10% compared to normal pricing by doing simple changes like running the dishwasher and washing machine at night, as well as setting back the AC during surge pricing.