Is one of the best new energy laws in the nation really about to unravel this quickly?
Last December, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the Future Energy Jobs Act. Hammered out over more than two years and supported by a wide variety of usually feuding interest groups, the law enhances conservation and renewable energy, preserves nuclear energy production and provides hundreds of millions of dollars for low-income communities. It puts Illinois at the forefront of wise energy policy.
But Ameren Illinois, which supplies gas and electricity to central and southern Illinois, already wants to rewrite the deal to its benefit. Ameren wants to lower its energy efficiency goal over the first four years by 27 percent — yet still pocket a multimillion-dollar performance bonus that goes with exceeding the goal.
State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, who helped craft the legislation, gets it right when she calls this a “sellout” by Ameren, which was at the table when the legislation was negotiated. Ameren already had negotiated a lower target for itself than ComEd is getting, yet ComEd intends to comply with the law without complaining. When it meets in September, the Illinois Commerce Commission should nix Ameren’s request.
Improving energy efficiency is a key part of the Future Energy Jobs Act, which went into effect on June 1. An earlier efficiency standard set in 2007 has helped to give Illinois the lowest power rates in the Midwest. Moreover, energy efficiency is one of the best ways to reduce climate-changing emissions from burning fossil fuels. And 90,000 people in Illinois already work in the energy-efficiency economy in Illinois, including engineers, architects, retailers, manufacturing employees and others. Supporters say the new law will add another 7,000 jobs and inject $700 million on average into the Illinois economy every year through 2030.
Ameren says it would prefer spending money on helping low-income communities. But aid to low-income communities already is an important feature of the Future Energy Jobs Act.
Ameren also claims it still intends to eventually meet the law’s full energy-efficiency target. But that’s not an excuse for trying to wiggle out of the requirements in the new law right out of the box. If the other entities that were partners in the negotiations over the Future Energy Jobs Act start trying to cut better deals for themselves, the expected benefits to consumers and the environment will be in peril.
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