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Bright future: Good news from the Illinois Commerce Commission

20151210_solarIllinois_fbThe future for solar looks a little brighter in Illinois after two recent Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) rulings.

The Citizens Utility Board (CUB) and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) applauded the decisions after months of work in favor of the reforms. 

“If Illinois wants to have a cheaper, cleaner and more stable power grid, we have to put policies in place that make it easier for people to adopt solar in their neighborhoods,” said CUB Executive Director David Kolata. “We took a nice step forward with these two rulings.”  

On Friday, Nov. 13 (yes, good things can happen on Friday the 13th), the ICC issued a final order involving interconnection standards for Illinoisans who own solar panels. The decision expanded the number of projects that will qualify for quick review, making it easier for these projects to connect to the power grid.

“This is important because as the costs of solar keep coming down we also want to cut administrative burdens and make it easier for people to enjoy cheaper, cleaner power,” Kolata said.

The second decision, on the same day, involved “net metering“–a benefit that allows solar panel owners to receive credits on their electric bills by sending excess renewable energy back to the power grid. 

Under the ruling, ComEd would be required to share data from the new digital smart meters for the purposes of net metering billing. Plus, the utilities must now offer an explanation if they reject specific proposals for “virtual net metering,” which would allow entire neighborhoods to enjoy the benefits of solar, even homes that don’t have solar panels. Virtual net metering is a key component of the “community solar” program that CUB and EDF have been advocating.

The ICC said in its ruling that to allow ComEd, or any provider of electricity, to disallow virtual net metering without explanation is “fundamentally unfair to customers.”

There’s more work to do. The interconnection standards ruling is due for review at the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, a bipartisan legislative oversight committee. The net metering rule also will eventually have to go before that committee. But consumer advocates say the ICC’s move is a good sign.

“Victories don’t always come easy for consumer advocates, but this is positive step forward in Illinois’ quest to build a more affordable power grid,” Kolata said.