Distributed Energy Resources

Public power eligible for Illinois renewables programs

The Illinois Power Agency has released the state’s long term renewable resources procurement plan, which includes public power utilities in some programs.

The plan, which implements Public Act 99-0906, better known as the Future Energy Jobs Act, allows public power utilities and rural electric cooperatives to participate in state behind-the-meter and community solar programs, namely, the Adjustable Block Program, the Community Renewable Generation Program, and the Illinois Solar for All Program.

An earlier version of the IPA’s plan was approved by the Illinois Corporation Commission, but in the final rule the agency admitted there is some ambiguity around the inclusion of projects located in public power utility and rural electric cooperative territories.

In the law, the definition of community renewable generation projects specifically mentions public power utilities and rural electric cooperatives, but the law also defines “subscribers” to those programs as entities that “take delivery service from an electric utility,” which in Illinois law does not include public power utilities and rural electric cooperatives.

While recognizing the ambiguity, the IPA noted that the General Assembly expressly included those entities in defining “community renewable generation projects,” a term only used in the law in connection with IPA’s community renewable generation program.

On that interpretation, the final rule includes public power utilities and rural electric cooperatives as eligible for community renewable generation projects.

However, that interpretation does not sit well with investor-owned Commonwealth Edison, which has filed a lawsuit contesting the inclusion of public power utilities and rural electric cooperatives in community renewable programs.

ComEd points to the definition of “electric utility” in Illinois law and also argues that electric entities outside of ICC jurisdiction do not bear the costs for the programs, so they should not share in their benefits.

“What is unclear is the extent to which developers will take on the risk of starting a community solar project in a public power entity’s service territory if the incentives are not assured,” Mark Pruitt, principal at The Power Bureau and a former director of the IPA, said.

Meanwhile, the IPA’s rule finalizes features of the Future Energy Jobs Act, which was passed in December 2016, that make what critics say are much needed changes to the state’s renewable portfolio rules.

Previously, RPS compliance was the responsibility of energy suppliers. However, after the state restructured its electric power sector, that arrangement hampered the spread of renewables because retail suppliers were wary of taking on that responsibility only to have customers migrate to another supplier. Under the new rules, RPS compliance will reside with the state’s investor owned utilities and show up on customers’ bills as a non-bypassable wires charge. That transition will be phased in over three years until it is fully implemented in 2019.

Public power utilities and rural electric cooperatives are still not subject to the requirements of Illinois’ RPS, which call for 25% of energy supplies to come from renewable sources by 2025.