PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – As energy bills increase and officials sound the alarm about potential brownouts in Illinois this summer, some experts say the transition to renewables is playing a factor.
Experts said the factors driving Illinois’ energy shortfall and increased costs are rising natural gas prices due to the war in Ukraine, inflation, and a push towards clean energy.
“The reality is we’re not building new coal facilities, and we’re phasing out coal facilities and we’re not building new natural gas transmission facilities and that’s leaving our zone short of the energy we may need,” said Tucker Kennedy, Ameren Illinois communications director.
This is the second installment of a two-part report. Read the first part in the link below.
In September 2021, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the climate and equitable jobs act, or CEJA, into law. The legislation will move Illinois to 100% clean energy by 2050 and require coal and gas plants to close by 2045.
“We are starting to see the results of energy policy changes that were enacted in 2017 and again last year,” said Donovan Griffith, director of government affairs with the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association.
Over recent weeks, some lawmakers and economic leaders have taken aim at CEJA for contributing to Illinois’ current power issues, but Governor Pritzker contends that’s not the case.
“It’s a process that goes all the way until 2038 and beyond, so nobody should think what we passed in CEJA is reducing the amount of energy that we’re able to provide across the State of Illinois,” Pritzker said. “What we are doing is incentivizing the creation of more energy production in our state.”
By 2027, seven fossil fuels plants across Illinois will close; five of which are owned by Texas-based Vistra.
In a release regarding the closure of the Joppa Power Plant by this September, Vistra’s CEO Curtis Morgan cited the reasons as: “Most notably legal and economic challenges – the latter due to the dysfunctional MISO market in Illinois and significant maintenance costs.”
However, the company has praised Illinois’ move toward renewables.
After CEJA was signed, Morgan said in a release, with the law’s framework in place: “Vistra plans to build the state’s largest fleet of utility-scale solar and battery energy storage facilities in downstate Illinois communities to help the state transition to renewable, zero-emission electricity generation.”
According to Vistra’s website, the company is planning to develop six combined utility-scale solar and battery energy storage facilities and three stand-alone battery storage facilities at the sites of closed fossil fuel plants.
It is anticipated that all of these projects will begin commercial service by 2025, but there are still questions about Illinois’ ability to fill the energy gap as renewables come online.
“The first goal was 20% renewable by 2020, it was later amended by CEJA to be 25 percent in 2025. Today it is less than 10%,” Griffith said.
Kennedy said Ameren Illinois believes the move to clean energy is good, but it must be done in a measured transition.
“If you phase those dispatchable generation sources too quickly and you don’t have the renewables to fill that void, you’ll be short, and that’s the situation we’re going to find ourselves in this summer and potentially next summer,” Kennedy said.
In June of 2021, the State of Illinois also announced recipients of the Coal-to-Solar Energy Storage Grant Program. The program allocates $280.5 million dollars to five coal-plant sites, over a 10-year-period, incentivizing the companies to install energy storage facilities.