ICC said high electricity bills and blackouts risk staying in the state without new gas-fired power plants

The candid communication could pressure the Pritzker administration and state lawmakers to reconsider parts of last year’s landmark Climate and Employment Equity Act, the centerpiece of which is the elimination by 2045 of power plants powered by fossil fuels.

Power producers have told state officials they won’t be planning any new natural gas-fired plants because that timeframe is too short to get financing.

For now, downstate Illinoisans starting in June will see a monthly increase in their electric bills approaching $40 on average thanks to soaring costs to compensate power generators for their promise to deliver during peak periods. The price shock is confined to the bottom of the state as a separate part of the CEJA Act protects upstate households and businesses from the sharp rise in natural gas and electricity prices for now. .

Additionally, with its five nuclear power plants, northern Illinois is not subject to the shortages that plague central and southern Illinois, which has depended on coal for decades.

Additionally, officials at Carmel, Indiana-based Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) warn of the possibility of temporary outages this summer during heat waves due to the shortage.

But that risk, they said today, is relatively low for 2022. The risk will increase from 2023 as more coal-fired plant owners who have announced their intention to shut down will close their facilities.

“Next year, we are looking at 11 gigawatts of (plant) withdrawals” in the MISO region that includes southern Illinois, said Melissa Seymour, MISO’s vice president of government affairs.

“We need thermal resources,” she added. “We don’t have a lot of (natural) gas infrastructure in our queue.”

David Patton, independent market monitor for MISO, told commissioners the shortage has been going on for years, with grid operators not doing enough to ensure adequate pricing to keep more power plants running while markets for electricity switch to cleaner resources.

“A number of resources that have retired shouldn’t have one,” he said. “We didn’t give them the economic incentive to stay.”

In southern Illinois, Irving, Texas-based Vistra, which was the state’s second-largest power producer, is shutting down its entire fleet, primarily for economic reasons. Similarly, Houston-based NRG Energy plans to shut down the last remaining coal-fired power plants in the Chicago area next month.

Ironically, there is more overall power capacity in the region, including southern Illinois, than there was a few years ago. But that’s due to the rapid expansion of wind and solar power, which more than offset coal plant shutdowns, Seymour said.

Despite this, a shortage exists as wind and solar power cannot always be relied on to operate at full capacity when needed most, given their weather-dependent nature.

As a result, in the summer, a wind farm bidding on MISO’s capacity market (the auction that determines the price paid to generators for their delivery promise) gets credit for just 15% of its capacity, Seymour said. Solar energy gets a 50% credit.

Today, the commissioners asked many questions about what MISO was doing to solve the problem. Among the actions taken by MISO is seeking to import more electricity from other states into southern Illinois. This, of course, usually means electricity generated by coal and gas plants in states like Missouri.

None of the commissioners asked MISO about the elephant in the room, which is the recently enacted clean energy law and its hard line on phasing out fossil fuels within Illnois’ borders.

Governor JB Pritzker considers the law one of the greatest accomplishments of his first term, particularly its status as one of the most aggressive state laws in the nation in terms of phasing out fossil fuels in industry. electricity.

With MISO saying the only way out of southern Illinois’ supply crunch for at least the next few years is to build more gas plants, the state now seems handcuffed to respond. .