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Do more to cut power usage, ICC directs ComEd

By: Steve Daniel |

Commonwealth Edison Co. must overhaul its three-year plan to reduce electricity consumption to make it more ambitious, the Illinois Commerce Commission ruled yesterday.

ComEd’s blueprint, submitted in August, will fall well short of meeting energy efficiency goals mandated in state law, due mainly to a state-imposed cap on how much ComEd ratepayers can be charged on their electric bills to pay for the programs. But despite the cost constraints, the ICC sided with environmental groups that said ComEd could do more, if not reach the law’s goals.

Specifically, the commission directed ComEd to boost its power-savings goal by 25,000 megawatt-hours annually, a 4 percent increase from ComEd’s current plan. Even with that increase, ComEd won’t come close to the 2 percent power-use reduction the law requires by mid-2015. Its submitted plan envisioned a 0.7 percent cut.

Environmental groups applauded the commission.

“We’re very pleased that the commission is insisting that ComEd do a better job of maximizing the efficiency it can achieve,” emailed Rebecca Stanfield, deputy director for policy in the Midwest at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Chicago. “This moves the state in the right direction — toward a cleaner, more affordable and more reliable electric system.”

NRDC said that ICC-backed steps it’s urging ComEd to take could save another 90,000 megawatt-hours rather than the 25,000 explicitly endorsed by the commission. That would be a 14 percent boost to ComEd’s proposed goals.

In a statement, Chicago-based ComEd said it couldn’t yet respond in detail to the order. But the utility said: “We applaud the commission’s leadership on this important issue. We look forward to engaging stakeholders in the development of additional programs that will enable us to continue helping our customers become more energy efficient and provide them with tools to reduce their energy consumption and costs.”

First enacted in 2007, Illinois’ energy efficiency law is one of the country’s most aggressive. To date, ComEd’s program has met the statute’s gradually more ambitious goals for power savings. But this latest three-year plan bumped up against a limit on how much funding ratepayers will provide — currently about $1.24 a month for the average single-family household.

In addition, ComEd says it’s already implemented many of the simplest efficiency measures — making high-efficiency light bulbs available at a subsidized cost, for example — leaving programs that are more complicated to implement and at higher risk of not meeting goals.

The commission, though, agreed with environmental groups and consumer advocates that ComEd was proposing to spend too much on educating consumers and could divert some of those funds to concrete efficiency programs.

The ICC also agreed with the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center that ComEd should begin to tap the efficiency promise of its $2.6 billion, 10-year “smart grid” project, under which it will install digital “smart meters” in every home and business in its service territory.

Specifically, ComEd must put together a plan involving manufacturers and retailers of smart devices like new-generation thermostats to allow ComEd’s meters to interact with those devices. That will enable consumers to program or adjust their appliances remotely as future programs are developed to allow them to cut usage during high-demand periods.

“As of now, there’s very little efficiency benefit from the smart grid program,” said Rob Kelter, senior attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago.