Prospect of power grid shortages, lack of action anger lawmakers

Published: Jul. 21, 2022 at 5:04 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) - While energy prices continue to rise this summer, Illinois lawmakers who led the fight for the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act say the grid operator for Central and Southern Illinois isn’t doing enough to help.

The Democrats said Thursday there are 34 clean energy projects in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator queue that need approval quickly. The wind and solar projects could generate more than 6,000 megawatts of energy, and lawmakers say they could power 4.5 million homes downstate.

Concerned customers have held rallies over recent months stressing that Ameren needs to address the rising prices as soon as possible. However, Ameren doesn’t generate consumers’ power. Energy for this region comes from MISO.

Ameren Illinois bills are skyrocketing due to inflation, increased consumption, and the closure of many coal plants causing energy shortages. Most people have seen information about the rising wholesale power prices in pamphlets with their Ameren bills for months now. But lawmakers say MISO is failing to approve renewable energy projects to meet the demand.

“MISO needs to operate with a sense of real urgency here. We did, and we took action,” said Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago). “MISO needs to think outside the box and meet the moment we are in.”

Williams said MISO leaders are trying to shift the blame and warn of potential power outages this summer even though Ameren officials continuously dispute that claim. Sen. Cristina Castro (D-Elgin) argues MISO’s inaction is to blame if Ameren customers find themselves in the dark. Both lawmakers worry people in Central and Southern Illinois will suffer without the 34 wind and solar projects going online.

“CEJA is the answer to price and capacity issues,” Castro said. “The problem is not the legislation; it’s operations and implementation.”

Roughly two-thirds of the energy supply across the MISO region comes from coal and gas annually, while nearly 10% of the electricity comes from wind and solar. Jim Chilsen with the Citizens Utility Board said fossil fuels can’t compete with cleaner and less expensive energy that lowers utility bills for families, seniors, and small businesses.

“CUB has seen a 20% increase in consumers contacting us mostly concerned about high bills, gas, and electric,” Chilsen said. “We can’t step back into the days of expensive unreliable fossil fuels.”

The Capitol Bureau asked MISO officials if they had a response to the complaints. Strategic Communications Adviser Brandon Morris said MISO was aware of the press conference Thursday and will set time aside to listen to the recording in its entirety.

“We look forward to thoughtfully responding to any concerns or questions raised,” Morris said.

Still, Williams feels fossil fuel interests and energy lobbyists are playing the blame game and calling for Illinois to use more coal and gas moving forward.

“Even as fossil fuel prices skyrocket, emissions continue to pollute our communities and our planet is burning,” Williams said. “Going back to coal and gas is like pouring gas on a fire in terms of hiking energy prices up and polluting our communities.”

Both lawmakers said they are talking with their downstate colleagues to find solutions to address the high energy prices. Williams said the Pritzker administration is also thinking about using existing funds to provide more utility bill relief.

Chilsen noted that Pritzker recently told Illinois political blogger Rich Miller that MISO is failing to strengthen and modernize the power grid. According to the Capitol Fax, Pritzker said the challenge has nothing to do with the Climate Equitable Jobs Act.

“It has everything to do with the production of energy all across the region covered by MISO,” Pritzker told Capitol Fax.

Chilsen said that the governor is right as MISO needs to build transmission infrastructure and update policies quickly and efficiently to get the renewable energy projects on the grid.

“Illinois consumers are relying on MISO to do its job,” Chilsen added.

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