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Will Schutt/MEDILL

Clean energy discussions often get energetic.

Calls for action dominate Lake County's Clean Energy Forum

by Will Schutt
April 17, 2014


Will Schutt/MEDILL

A Waukegan resident learns more about Clean Power Lake County.

A church basement isn't necessarily where you'd imagine a clean energy conference to be held.

“A lot of faith based organizations have a social justice component,” said Karen Long MacLeod, the volunteer media coordinator for Clean Power Lake County. “The NAACP considers clean energy to be a social justice issue,” said Jennifer Witherspoon, president of the NAACP's Lake County chapter. Power plants and air pollution often disproportionatly affect minority communities.


Non-profits, community organizations and politicians reviewed the need to revamp Illinois' clean energy legislation. They called on local residents to embrace clean energy options that bring jobs, energy savings and social justice. 

The 2014 Lake County Clean Energy Forum, hosted by a consortium of stakeholders that make up Clean Power Lake County, gathered together more than 100 people Tuesday at the Christ Episcopal Church in Waukegan.

Among the participants were State Senator Terry Link (D-30th), Waukegan Mayor Wayne Motley and Lake County Sheriff Mark C. Curran, Jr.

“We're elated that the county in demonstrating their commitment to becoming sustainable,” said Evan Craig, the volunteer chair of the Sierra Club.

“At the national level in Congress, unfortunately, we just don't have the consensus to move forward on these issues,” said Jack Darin, the director of the Sierra Club's Illinois chapter. “So if Illinois is going to bring the benefits of clean energy here to Waukegan and to our state, we're going to have to show that leadership ourselves.”

A major focus of the forum was Illinois' Renewable Portfolio Standard, a law passed in 2007 requiring 25 percent of the state's power to come from renewable sources by 2025 (it currently requires 10 percent). The law created the Illinois Power Agency, which works with privately-owned energy companies to ensure “adequate, reliable, affordable, efficient, and environmentally sustainable electric service at the lowest total cost.”

According to Clean Power Lake County, a “glitch in state law has broken the RPS.”

Darin says the “glitch” is twofold.

Since the deregulation of Illinois' electricity suppliers, many have switched from ComEd to alternative vendors. The IPA directs ComEd towards local clean energy sources, keeping environmental benefits and jobs in Illinois but omits other vendors.

Since ComEd's competitors aren't obligated to participation in the IPA, they often buy the cheapest renewable energy credits to meet the 10 percent standard. Most of the cheapest clean power comes from far away, doing nothing to improve Illinois' clean energy industry.

The other problem with the current RPS is financial. The Illinois Power Agency Renewable Energy Resources Fund currently has about 52 million dollars sitting around, doing nothing, while it's intended purpose is to help reduce energy costs, bring jobs, and clean Illinois' air.

To fix the RPS, State Senator Mike Frerichs and State Representative Frank Mautino are respectively sponsoring bills SB0103 and HB2864 intended to continue policy support for clean energy. But both bills would require the IPA to fully utilize the Illinois Power Agency Renewable Energy Resources Fund.

The bills have been stalled for more than a year. SB0103 was re-referred to the Illinois Senate Assignments Committee in April 2013 and HB2864 was re-referred to the House Rules Committee in March 2013.

“This renewable stuff is coming, it's inevitable, but for now, energy efficiency is the answer,” said Bryan McDaniel of the Citizens Utility Board.