Our state is not at the top of many lists these days. So it was encouraging to see Illinois ranked in the top 10 most energy-efficient states in November by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.
Illinois' high marks are thanks largely to the increasing investment and energy savings required under the state's energy-efficiency resource standard, which mandates that public utilities decrease electric sales 2 percent by 2015. This legislation has helped to make Illinois a leader in the Midwest for its customer energy-efficiency programs. It has also sparked some debate, since many utilities have had trouble meeting the mandated savings goals.
While it seems unlikely that Illinois will realize that 2 percent savings by 2015, we should recognize that utilities' efforts have nonetheless provided tremendous benefits, creating new jobs and saving consumers and businesses millions of dollars in reduced energy costs. Illinois' rate cap, which limits how much utilities can charge ratepayers to run energy-efficiency programs, makes the 2 percent goal an unreliable measuring stick. We should instead look at the effect these programs have had to date.
Chicago businesses have benefited greatly from utility-funded energy-efficiency programs that help cut energy costs and free up capital that employers can invest in more productive ways, such as hiring or expansion. ComEd's programs have helped deliver savings for many area businesses, including: • Armacell's South Holland plant, saving $127,000 annually • Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village, saving $40,000 annually • Merchandise Mart, saving $90,000 annually • Chicago Shakespeare Theater, saving $10,000 annually
INVESTMENTS ARE PAYING OFF
The Midwest has seen a 225 percent increase in electric energy-efficiency investment since 2008. In the Midwest alone more than $1.45 billion was invested in electric and natural gas energy efficiency in 2012, and that is expected to grow to $1.81 billion by 2015.
In the Chicago area, ComEd spent $340 million on energy-efficiency programs from 2009 to 2012 — saving 4.6 million megawatt-hours of electricity for its customers — and plans to invest an additional $300 million before the end of 2014, saving an additional 1.8 million megawatt-hours. That's significant considering every dollar invested has generated more than one dollar in energy savings.
The prevalence of utility programs also has led to the growth of green-collar jobs. Many companies, such as Franklin Energy Services and Resource Solutions Group, have opened new offices here to help utilities implement their programs. According to a 2011 study by the Brookings Institution, the Chicago region added more than 600 jobs in energy efficiency-related fields between 2007 — when the Illinois General Assembly passed the savings mandate — and 2010. Additionally, ComEd's programs alone have saved enough energy to power more than 325,000 homes for one year and taken the equivalent of 400,000 cars' carbon emissions out of the atmosphere.
We need to recognize Illinois utilities' efforts and help them continue their momentum by increasing investment, developing innovative ways to save energy and realizing that energy efficiency is not a threat to power generators. It is a resource that generates tremendous economic benefits for utilities and helps save money and resources — something that should be at the top of everyone's list.