Springfield mayoral candidate Jim Langfelder has said that a part of his plan for City Water, Light and Power is to increase the use of renewable energy because 25 percent of power generated by the utility must be from renewable sources by 2025.
But while a state law imposes that requirement on large investor-owned utilities in Illinois, municipally owned systems, including CWLP, are exempt.
“Neither the municipally operated electrical systems or the rural cooperatives are under the state mandate for the renewable portfolio standard,” Phillip “Doc” Mueller, spokesman for the Illinois Municipal Utilities Association, a trade group with members including CWLP, told The State Journal-Register.
“The reason that the legislature did not include us in the mandate is that, as not-for-profit entities, every dollar that we spend ends up being passed along in some form to our customers,” Mueller said. “We don’t have shareholders. We operate as units of local government. Having said that, we take our environmental responsibility very seriously.”
At a candidate forum Thursday featuring Langfelder, Springfield’s city treasurer, and Sangamon County Auditor Paul Palazzolo, Langfelder talked of the mandate. The two are in the April 7 race for mayor.
“In 2025, Springfield … has to have 25 percent renewable energy, so that’s the focus why I’m looking forward with solar energy, because you have to have that,” Langfelder told a lunch group of the Illinois Government Bar Association at the Sangamo Club, 227 E. Adams St.
Asked after the meeting if the mandate applies to CWLP, Langfelder said: “I think it’s municipal and electric companies. I think for municipalities, that’s what it is.”
When told later that CWLP is not now under such a mandate, Langfelder said “that’s the direction we’re going” in federal and state regulations, and a planned approach including solar power, which is generated during peak energy-use hours, makes sense.
“That doesn’t change my philosophy,” Langfelder said. “You know how regulations are. They change every year. I don’t think they’re going to lessen the demand for renewable energy.”
Langfelder said at a news conference last week that he wants to renegotiate CWLP wind energy contracts to protect he utility from market variances. He also outlined possible public-private partnerships for alternative energy generation, and he said he’d traveled to Springfield, Missouri, where there is a 4.95-megawatt solar farm. He also talked of a “strategic balance” of power sources.
At the forum Thursday, Palazzolo criticized Langfelder’s plan.
“With all due respect to my opponent, I do not agree with his desire to further engage in wind, solar and hydropower,” Palazzolo said. “You can go there, but it’s expensive. And our ratepayers can’t afford the startup at this point.”
Both candidates say they want low rates.
“What you want to do is what’s most economical for the city of Springfield,” Langfelder said.
Palazzolo said that his focus for CWLP as mayor would be “to keep utility rates low, and the way to do that is to bring back a professional, strategic general manager” to lead the utility.
Langfelder also said he’s not sure where hydropower that Springfield would use would be generated, but he said one option would be to buy it.
“You should look at everything,” he said. “What if hydro’s less expensive?”
Amber Sabin, spokeswoman for CWLP, said that an agreement the city has with the Sierra Club is what requires the city to purchase wind power now. She said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued proposed rules, which aren’t final, that would apply on a statewide basis with regard to various benchmarks, including heat rate output for electric generating units and for use of renewable energy sources.
“These rules are to be finalized this summer and would be applied on a statewide basis” by the Illinois EPA, she said.
Sabin said CWLP purchases wind power that equals 20 percent of the energy consumed by Springfield customers. The utility also offers renewable promotions, including rebates for customers who install solar systems.
Meanwhile, at Thursday’s forum, the candidates reiterated their positions on a city planner.
“I’m not going to create any new positions,” Langfelder said. “My first year is going to focus on transitioning and changing the culture of city government as we know it today.” He said many plans for the city are already done, and there should be a “comprehensive, cohesive approach” to implementing them.
“My friend Jim wants a mechanism in place to ensure that we’re implementing, and that mechanism is indeed a city planner,” Palazzolo said. “We are the only city our size outside the city of Chicago that does not have a city planner.”
Palazzolo said the position would create “a dedicated focus with an individual who is serving the city of Springfield rather than keeping our fingers crossed with the regional planning commission to make sure that we’re getting our plans in place and then implemented.”
“We can’t be afraid of new ideas,” he said.
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