This week the Illinois Commerce Commission finalized the state’s Long-Term Renewable Resources Procurement Plan, with tweaks that clean energy advocates say will boost installation and access to renewables in the state.
It also officially places Illinois in the upper echelons of state renewable energy procurement targets.
The Illinois Power Agency, the state's energy procurer, detailed a plan to acquire 25 percent of Illinois' energy from renewable sources by 2025, a requirement under the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act. To meet that goal, the plan outlines the procurement of 666 megawatts of community and distributed solar. The text also lays out procurements for the state's utilities and discusses the implementation of its Solar for All Program, which is designed to make solar more accessible to low-income communities.
The final text of the Long-Term Renewable Resources Procurement Plan also includes several updates that clean energy advocates lobbied for.
The commission did away with spot procurements, where states purchase renewable energy credits on a yearly basis from existing generation. The Illinois Power Agency planned to purchase 37 million spot RECs over two years, more than double the 10 million spot RECs it’s purchased for $65 million over the past nine years. Instead, Illinois indicated it would spend on forward-looking clean energy projects to reach its long-range goals.
“The legislation was written with the understanding it would take some time,” said Christie Hicks, manager of clean energy regulatory implementation at the Environmental Defense Fund. “Meeting long-term goals takes priority over meeting annual goals.”
Rather than focusing solely on large utilities, the final plan also includes municipal and rural electric cooperatives in its REC program — something utilities like ComEd had lobbied against because those companies don’t have “public utility” status, meaning they aren’t bound by the state’s renewable portfolio standard and don’t pay for its programs.
But the Illinois Power Agency argued that projects run by co-ops still benefit the entire state. Other groups, like the Environmental Law & Policy Center, agreed, saying rural and economically disadvantaged communities should have access to the same benefits even if not serviced by a regulated utility. The municipal and rural companies mostly serve central and southern Illinois, areas where the commission said it hopes to see project growth.
The final document also includes a change to compel in-state development of clean energy projects. While Illinois can purchase RECs from facilities in nearby states such as Michigan and Wisconsin, the state will assess whether these facilities meet the requirements of the program using a point system.
In its final version, the commission raised the point threshold required for out-of-state facilities to qualify. That offers in-state facilities the upper hand and should lead to fringe benefits like more jobs and cleaner air.
According to the Illinois Commerce Commission, the first procurements, which will include utility-scale wind and brownfield solar, will come this summer. The Illinois Power Agency said the plan should be revised in 2019, after it assesses progress on reaching state goals. But according to the state's utility watchdog, it's a clear move in the right direction.
"No question, there’s a lot of work to do," said David Kolata, executive director at the Citizens Utility Board. "But Illinois now has an excellent opportunity to act on the promise of the Future Energy Jobs Act to make sure that everyone receives the benefits of the clean energy economy.”