Illinois-based utility Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) and parent company Exelon have committed to remove some controversial provisions from a large energy bill they are backing, including mandatory demand charges and changes to net energy metering (NEM). The decision came shortly after backlash from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration and amid concerns raised by clean energy groups.
Although the comprehensive bill features many provisions, the energy companies are reportedly relying on the legislation, called the Future Energy Jobs Bill, as a way to save two of Exelon’s struggling nuclear power plants.
However, the bill’s original language also included a plan to impose residential demand charges, which many solar advocates have long opposed. For example, when a Texas utility considered similar charges earlier this year, The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) deemed them “confusing and unpredictable” for ratepayers and said they “prohibit solar growth.”
In Illinois, ComEd and Exelon’s demand-charge proposal also received pushback from the Rauner administration; after the bill passed in a state House energy committee, a memo surfaced this week in which the governor’s energy policy advisor called them “insane rates.”
In the memo, published at Capitol Fax, the advisor said demand charges would “dramatically alter the way customers are charged for their energy usage,” and the proposal “skyrockets energy prices for working families and fixed-income seniors.”
ComEd and Exelon have now committed to dropping the demand charges from the bill. In addition, they have agreed to leave the current residential NEM policy alone. As such, residential solar customers would still be able to receive retail NEM rates rather than proposed wholesale ones, which are significantly lower, until an existing 5% cap is reached. After that, the energy companies propose to move to wholesale rates for residential NEM but provide a new rebate based on a locational value.
Another plus is that, although commercial solar already receives wholesale NEM rates, the proposal would provide an additional $500/kW rebate. Community solar would will also receive a $500/kW rebate.
In a statement, Amy Heart, a spokesperson for TASC, says, “We support the proposed elimination of demand charges and the reinstatement of full retail net metering. Exelon and ComEd made this verbal proposal on Tuesday to improve the bill; however, our final support is dependent on final legislative language.”
She adds, “There may still be important tweaks needed to the bill, including ensuring a full stakeholder process at the [Illinois Commerce Commission, the state utility regulator] when the 5 percent net metering cap is reached to guarantee a fair valuation of the benefits of rooftop solar, ensuring distributed solar can continue to thrive, creating job opportunities and improving Illinois’ environment.”
In a press release, ComEd and Exelon say the bill’s latest changes reflect feedback received from various stakeholders, including the governor’s office.
“In the past week, we have heard from groups and individuals representing a broad cross-section of interests. We have listened to what they had to say and have made changes to the bill based on their input,” says Joe Dominguez, Exelon’s executive vice president of governmental and regulatory affairs and public policy, in the release. “The proposals emerging today will strengthen Illinois’ commitment to clean energy, deliver billions of dollars in savings from energy efficiency, provide needed support for low-income residents, retain $1.2 billion in economic activity associated with the Quad Cities and Clinton nuclear plants, and create thousands of jobs to support our economy.”
With some of the more controversial provisions taken out of the bill or addressed, the energy companies and other bill proponents are hopeful that Illinois lawmakers will pass it during their veto session, which is set to soon close in the beginning of December.