The $1 billion electric rate-relief package that Illinois lawmakers approved this week contains not only savings for consumers but also an expected boon to the state’s growing wind-farm industry.
A provision of the bill that passed the House and Senate on Thursday requires utility companies to get increasing shares of their power supplies from renewable sources, especially wind turbines. The green threshold would start at 2 percent next year and would gradually increase to 25 percent by 2025, according to lawmakers and other proponents familiar with the details.
Utilities previously agreed to voluntary goals, but environmental advocates have been pushing for binding requirements with penalties for companies that don’t comply.
“It’s a terrific victory,” said state Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, a sponsor of the legislation. “We need to make sure it’s not just a paper victory. We need to make sure that as it’s implemented, it’s done so fully and enthusiastically.”
Illinois has seen a number of wind turbines constructed over the past few years in rural areas, and a massive “wind farm” is being completed in McLean County. Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, said the environmentally friendly method of power generation should help stabilize electric rates by supplementing traditional sources of electricity.
“Especially with the wind, once you get the (generator) up and operating, there’s no variable to the cost,” she said Friday. “That can take out some of the volatility of the cost of fossil fuels.”
Most notably, the bill sent this week to Gov. Rod Blagojevich would provide financial relief, including rebates and credits, to Illinois consumers who experienced sticker shock this year after a decade-long freeze on electric rates expired. The state’s major power companies, including the Illinois Ameren utilities, agreed to the package after weeks of negotiations with lawmakers.
Harmon said a renewable-energy component became part of the deal early on.
“This is a good-faith effort, and we’re going to do what we can to meet the targets that are set out,” said Shelley Epstein, a spokesman for the Ameren Illinois utilities.
Blagojevich’s administration has sought a 25 percent “renewable portfolio standard” for utilities as part of a larger plan to cut the type of man-made gas emissions that are blamed for global warming. But spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said the governor’s office is still reviewing the massive rate-relief bill.
“The governor has said it’s important that we pass some rate relief for consumers,” she said. “We just need to review the details of the plan.”
By Mike Ramsey
Gatehouse News Service
28 July 2007
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