What's Going on With Illinois' Energy Grid?
Updated: Jun 21, 2022
You may have heard that Ameren customers in Central and Southern Illinois will be seeing much higher utility bills this summer. The bottom line—clean energy is not to blame!
It’s complicated, but it’s true—the average utility bill for Illinois residents in Ameren territory will increase about $40/month starting in June. This is due to a number of factors, but none of them are direct effects of the groundbreaking Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA), passed in 2021.
Let’s Break it Down:
Because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the price of fossil gas—also called natural gas— has surged to the highest levels since 2008. Gas power plants can no longer claim to provide energy at a stable and low cost, though you may have heard calls for drilling or buildout of new gas plants to help bring energy prices down. Aside from the fact that building out new fossil fuel infrastructure goes against the decarbonization goals established in CEJA—it takes many years for a gas plant to come online, so this is not a sufficient solution for the problem at hand.
Additionally, market forces have driven a lot of coal power offline over the past decade. Coal plants were not closed because of CEJA. In fact, every single coal plant closure occurring in Illinois was announced before CEJA was passed. This has created uncertainty in the capacity market and has increased the price of electricity in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) market.
Ameren does not set the price of electricity, only the delivery cost—passing that increase on to consumers. However, due to an unwillingness to accept the transition to renewable energy and other outdated thinking, Ameren has missed opportunities to bring clean and affordable renewable energy to the grid—which would, in turn, lower the bills of their customers. Ameren also declined to participate in CEJA’s carbon mitigation credits, which are now delivering around one billion dollars of savings for ComEd customers in Northern Illinois, Chicago, and the surrounding suburbs.
As a result, Ameren’s price increase will hurt many families in Central and Southern Illinois and could cause families to have to make tough choices between food, medicine, and utilities in the heat of the summer.
In the short term, Ameren needs to widely promote their demand response programs, such as Peak Time Rewards and Power Smart Pricing, and dramatically increase their energy efficiency efforts. If Ameren had been promoting these programs to their customers and had helped create informed consumer energy habits, they would not need to buy such a great capacity from MISO. But at every turn, Ameren has fought to lower their energy efficiency targets, failed to meet the targets set in law, and argued that energy efficiency and demand response programs don’t work.
How You Can Take Action:
As people of faith and justice, we have been advocating for people-centered energy policies that will lead to healthier communities. But downstate Illinois has once again been overlooked and needs strong advocates in the legislature for people, not corporations.
We also need more large-scale renewable energy projects to come online quickly, in order to provide affordable and reliable energy—and to efficiently train workers for those jobs. We also need to protect the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act from attempts to weaken it.
So what can you do right now to help lessen the sting of higher energy bills?
Sign this petition asking Ameren to protect consumers
LIHEAP assistance is open until May 31. You can apply by going to HelpIllinoisFamilies.com or by calling 1-833-711-0374.
If you’re already struggling with your bills, it’s important that you contact the utility. They can help provide assistance and/or put you on a payment plan.
Practice energy efficiency at home. Faith in Place has many resources and can coordinate a Smart Energy Workshop at your House of Worship.
The above solutions help in the short term—but the long-term systemic problems of lacking energy efficiency and the cry to develop new fossil fuel infrastructure must be addressed.
Here’s what you can do:
Talk to your elected officials about the need to scale up renewable energy. It’s far cheaper than fossil fuel energy sources—and when paired with battery technology, can be even more reliable.
Ask Ameren to make their Peak Time Rewards program an opt-out rather than opt-in program, so that all Ameren customers can capitalize on savings and adopt smart energy strategies.