Since 2014, the Exelon Corporation – which owns Commonwealth Edison (ComEd), the largest provider of electricity in Illinois – has been lobbying state legislators to bail out its struggling nuclear power plants, so far to no avail. The latest attempt, which just passed the Illinois House Energy Committee, would provide hundreds of millions of dollars in annual subsidies to Exelon for the next ten years.
Altogether, opponents say the bill would cost ratepayers $24 billion through 2040, the “largest rate hike in U.S. history,” according to Dave Lundy, head of Better Energy Solutions for Tomorrow, also known as the BEST Coalition, which bills itself as “a grassroots coalition created to advocate for smart energy policy in Illinois.”
The bailout would also create a “low carbon portfolio standard” (LCPS), which would mandate electric utilities purchase energy credits from sources that emit low amounts of carbon dioxide when used. LCPS would require 70 percent of the electricity used in utilities’ distribution systems to come from qualified low-carbon-dioxide sources, including solar, wind, hydro, nuclear and clean coal. This proposal would benefit Exelon but harm consumers of electric power. Utilities falling short of the 70-percent mark would be required to buy credits to bridge the difference. LCPS would also cap price increases at 2.015 percent per year, compared to 2009 rates.
Illinois already has a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) mandating 25 percent of power distribution be composed of renewable energy (not including nuclear) by 2025. The average retail price of electricity in Illinois is already 20 percent higher than in Indiana, 24 percent higher than Iowa’s, and 25 percent higher than in Missouri. This means Illinois residents and businesses pay $2.1 billion per year more for electricity than they would at Indiana prices and $2.5 billion more than they would at Iowa or Missouri prices. That adds up to a significant cost to homeowners, around $442 to $526 per Illinois household per year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
In a cost impact analysis conducted by Kestler Energy Consulting in 2015, the authors found LCPS could increase electricity costs by “$2.38 per MWh ($0.00238/kWh) for ComEd ratepayers and $2.17 per MWh ($0.00217/kWh) for Ameren ratepayers.” The average electricity supply cost could increase “approximately 8.45% for ComEd customers and 8.35% for Ameren customers.”
Since the establishment of the state’s RPS, Illinois has been unable to meet the mandates, which have already hurt consumers across the state in several ways. First, these mandates increase the cost of energy for consumers because the mandated renewable-energy sources are more expensive and less dependable. Second, Illinois standards are more restrictive than other states’ standards, because the RPS sets specific percentages for different types of renewable power, not allowing different renewable sources to compete with one another on a level playing field. Third, the state does not have the renewable capacity other states do: Illinois has minimal wind generation potential compared to its regional neighbors and virtually no solar potential.
With uncertainty in Washington, DC, the best approach for energy policy in Illinois would be to repeal the RPS altogether. Short of that, the state could take steps to help make its electricity less expensive and more competitive by making the RPS mandate more flexible by adjusting the targets downward and extending deadlines to reflect the real potential for renewable energy and available technology. Together, these reforms would allow utilities and consumers to adapt to new technologies.
The current proposal would benefit one energy company at the expense of everyone else in the state. The government should not decide winners and losers in any market, and lawmakers should never enact policies that will harm individual consumers and families.
The following documents provide additional information about renewable energy mandates.
Best Options for Potential Nuclear Power Plant Closings in Illinois
In this Heartland Policy Brief, James M. Taylor and Taylor Smith analyze the potential closing of several nuclear power plants in Illinois and conclude the best option for taxpayers and electricity consumers is to allow uneconomical plants to close and let the most economical power options replace them under a free-market system.
Playing Nuclear-Plant Chicken: Exelon’s Crane Makes Springfield Rounds Again
Steve Daniels writes in Crain’s Chicago Business about the renewed efforts by Exelon to promote the low carbon portfolio standard.
Research & Commentary: Illinois Low Carbon Portfolio Standard
Heartland Director of Government Relations John Nothdurft examines Illinois’ low carbon portfolio standard and concludes imposing “clean energy” mandates on top of those already in place will raise electricity prices, hurting consumers. “An alternative not mentioned by the agencies would be to soften or eliminate the state’s existing renewable portfolio mandate, thereby reducing energy prices and encouraging investment in the most efficient sources of fuel, which today and for the foreseeable future are clean coal and natural gas. Utilities should compete to provide electricity without government assistance or restraint,” Nothdurft wrote.
Study: Illinois’s Renewable Energy Standard No Help to State’s Economy
The Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University finds Illinois’ renewable portfolio standard increases the cost of electricity to consumers and reduces business opportunities and job creation.
The Status of Renewable Electricity Mandates in the States
The Institute for Energy Research finds states with renewable electricity mandates have on average 40 percent higher electricity rates than those without such mandates.
Policy Tip Sheet No. 11: Illinois Renewable Energy Mandate
This Heartland Institute Policy Tip Sheet outlines the fundamental problems of renewable energy mandates in Illinois and recommends an alternative.
Study: Consumers Unwilling to Pay More for Renewable Energy
Relatively few consumers are willing to pay extra for renewable energy offered under voluntary “green” pricing programs, according to a report from the Institute for Energy Research.
Why is Renewable Energy So Expensive?
This brief but useful essay in a January 2014 blog post for The Economist states countries with the most renewable power generation also have the highest electricity prices, and government efforts to alleviate this problem have been unsuccessful.
Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the website of Environment & Climate News at https://heartland.org/Center-Climate-Environment/index.html, The Heartland Institute’s website at http://heartland.org, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at www.policybot.org.
The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact John Nothdurft, Heartland’s director of government relations, at [email protected].org or 312/377-4000.