Environmental, consumer groups seek greenhouse gas reduction metrics in Ill.

Source: Jeffrey Tomich, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, September 18, 2014

Consumer and environmental groups in Illinois are urging state regulators to require utilities to track reductions in greenhouse gas emissions directly linked to smart grid investments.

The metrics proposed by the Citizens Utility Board and Environmental Defense Fund would focus on when and how shifts in energy use translate to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

The proposal is an outgrowth of legislation proposed by Chicago-based Commonwealth Edison and passed by the Illinois Legislature in 2011 that requires the state’s two largest utilities to invest billions of dollars in smart grid infrastructure, a multiyear endeavor that is supposed to create thousands of jobs, improve electric reliability and reduce power consumption.

The Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act requires utilities to file annual status reports with the Illinois Commerce Commission that show their progress in rolling out digital smart meters (EnergyWire, April 17).

The reports include dozens of other tracking metrics put in place to help demonstrate the benefits of the grid overhaul, including reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Beginning with their 2014 annual plans filed with the ICC, ComEd and Ameren Illinois began voluntarily self-reporting greenhouse gas emission reductions related to the reduction in miles driven by meter-reading trucks.

The advocacy groups worked with utilities to develop additional greenhouse gas reduction metrics. But the parties differed on the best way to move forward, prompting the ICC petition by the Citizens Utility Board and EDF.

“We wanted a more complete picture of greenhouse gas emissions reductions from smart grid rollout,” said Andrew Barbeau, president of the Accelerate Group, a Chicago consultancy that is working with EDF on the initiative. “We’ve been working the past two years to really piece together a framework.”

The groups have asked the commission to require utilities to include greenhouse gas tracking mechanisms in their next smart grid report in April.

Metrics proposed in the filing focus on tracking “load shape,” or how changes in energy consumption translate into power plant emissions.

The proposal would use cumulative data from entities that manage the bulk power grid in Illinois — PJM Interconnection LLC in northern Illinois and the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) in the southern half of the state — to develop specific values for pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per kilowatt-hour for every hour during the year.

Those values can then be applied to the marginal unit of energy consumed at any time, any day to determine the greenhouse gas emission reductions achieved. That means a kilowatt-hour saved in midafternoon on July 21 might achieve greater environmental benefits than a kilowatt-hour not used in the middle of the night on Oct. 21.

Saving by shaving peaking plants

David Kolata, executive director of the Chicago-based Citizens Utility Board, said one key to saving money for consumers and reducing greenhouse gas emissions is limiting the few hours per year when so-called peaking plants operate.

As recently as a few years ago, those peaking plants largely were fueled by natural gas. But the boom in shale gas production and corresponding decline in natural gas prices now means that in some parts of the country, such as northern Illinois, older, less-efficient coal plants are those generating units operating during peak times.

Knowing both the price of each additional unit of energy throughout the day and the environmental cost could also help better maximize use of energy efficiency, demand response and distributed generation, Kolata said.

“We want to make sure the architecture is set up to encourage that and reward it to the extent that it makes economic sense.”

ComEd and Ameren have yet to embrace the proposed tracking metrics.

In a written statement, ComEd said only that it agrees with measuring smart grid benefits and that it would continue to work with the Citizens Utility Board and other stakeholders on “the complex question of how better to measure greenhouse gases.”

Ameren said the changes proposed by the groups are not “appropriate” for tracking actual greenhouse gas reductions related to smart meter deployment.

“As Ameren Illinois is just beginning its [smart] meter deployment, we do not believe there is a need to rush to formalize, under a regulatory proceeding, inappropriate greenhouse tracking mechanisms,” the company said in an emailed statement. “Ameren Illinois is willing to voluntarily continue discussions on greenhouse gas tracking mechanisms.”

The advocacy groups say now is the right time to strengthen greenhouse gas emissions reductions, especially in light of U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan — a proposal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants by an average of 30 percent by 2030.

Under the plan, each state would have to comply with specific emissions reductions goals. The proposal would specifically require a 33 percent cut in Illinois. While there’s no direct link with EPA’s carbon proposal, the proposed greenhouse gas tracking mechanism could prove even more useful if Illinois adopts a carbon market to comply with federal regulations, Kolata said.

“All states are going to have to comply with that,” he said. “From the consumer point of view, the question is, ‘What is the cheapest way to do that?'”