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Leading the nation: CUB, EDF push for a smarter, cleaner power grid in Illinois

Part of CUB’s watchdog role is making sure Illinois’ two biggest utilities do the “smart grid” right. That’s why CUB and the Environmental Defense Fund have just made a major proposal before state regulators to make sure $3 billion in historic upgrades to the power grid work for consumers.

CUB and EDF have filed a petition to beef up a metric designed to track how the smart upgrades to the grid will help reduce “greenhouse gas emissions” caused by cars and power plants. The petition puts Illinois at the forefront of national discussions on how to handle carbon emissions–in the weeks after the Environmental Protection Agency proposed its Clean Power Plan.

We’ve had promising early discussions with ComEd and Ameren, which until now have focused on how smart grid efficiencies reduce utility trucks on the road, which in turn means less exhaust polluting the atmosphere.

We agree, but we want to work with the utilities to develop a stronger metric. That’s because we think there’s a lot more to the smart grid than fewer trucks on the road. The upgrades can:

  • open the door to new power pricing plans that save consumers money and reduce electricity usage at key times;
  • detect and help reduce power that is wasted on the way to your home (line loss);
  • spark innovations that make homes more efficient.

Improvements like these help reduce electricity usage at “peak” times–those hot summer afternoons when people crank up the AC, power plants work way too hard, and power prices go through the roof.

Cutting peak power usage not only lessens plant emissions, but it’s also good for our pocketbooks. A study by the Brattle Group found that shaving peak demand by just 5 percent could lead to at least $35 billion in savings nationwide over the next two decades.

“We believe strongly that it’s not enough to simply track how these improvements reduce utility trucks on the road,” CUB Executive Director David Kolata said. “The smart grid is much smarter than that. It has the potential to make the grid more efficient and cleaner. As the nation tackles the issue of carbon emissions we owe it to consumers to clearly track such benefits.”

We hope state regulators rule on the filing in time for ComEd and Ameren to incorporate it into their smart grid deployment plans in the spring.