Illinois Lawmakers Consider $300M for Utility Microgrids

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Utility microgrids would get a big boost in Illinois under a smart grid bill introduced into the state legislature and backed by the state’s largest utility, Commonwealth Edison.

The bill (HB 3328/SB1879) would let ComEd invest $300 million in six microgrid pilot projects that would serve healthcare, homeland security, transportation and water services.

“We need a comprehensive energy policy in Illinois and one important part of that policy should be preparing for the unexpected,” said Rep. Bob Rita, who sponsored the bi-partisan bill with Sen. Kimberly Lightford, and Rep. Ed Sullivan.

Lawmakers hope to take up the bill this spring before the Illinois General Assembly adjourns at the end of May.

ComEd, an Exelon subsidiary, would install the microgrids over five years to study different microgrid configurations. The pilot projects would include at least three of these technologies: solar PV, fuel cells, natural gas generation (including combined heat and power), electricity storage plant, geothermal tech and wind turbines.

If the bill become law, Illinois will follow California and Northeastern states in creating pilot projects to demonstrate how microgrids benefit customers and the larger grid.

The bill also includes funding and policy changes to boost energy efficiency, community solar and electric vehicle charging. It allows up to $100 million in utility spending for solar EV charging stations at  5,000 publicly accessible locations: apartment buildings, workplaces, municipal, long-term and overnight parking lots and areas of economic disadvantage.

“ComEd’s announcement is another great example of recognizing the value and importance of microgrids to modernizing the country’s electrical infrastructure, and of the growing role that electric vehicles will play in transforming the way we use energy,” said Darren Hammell, co-founder and chief strategy officer at Princeton Power Systems.

Utility dominance?

Utility ownership of microgrids inevitably raises concerns among independent companies about utility market dominance. Illinois has a strong competitive retail energy sector because it allows customers to choose their electricity suppliers.

David Kolata, executive director of Citizens Utility Board (CUB), said that his organization is open to the idea of utility microgrids, but against utilities dominating the microgrid market.

‘We’d like to see more action on microgrids period,” he said. “We do think the utility has a role to play. We will look at the language closely to make sure there is nothing that precludes others from coming in and building microgrids.”

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The bill says the utility cannot use the microgrids for retail sale of power. Instead, the microgrids would bolster ComEd’s distribution system.

Specifically, the bill says the pilot microgrids can be a source of power, energy, and ancillary services for customers within their boundaries during power outages, “provided that the use of the plant and facilities during these periods and the delivery of electric power and energy that they produce shall be considered and treated as a distribution system reliability function and not as a retail sale of power.”

ComEd also may sell energy, power, heat and ancillary services from the microgrids into wholesale and related markets.

The bill lets the utility recover costs through either a delivery surcharge or automatic tariff adjustment, as well as earn a 50 basis point adder. Kolata said he’s concerned that the profit allowed is too high.

In a news release, ComEd said that all of the bill’s initiatives will initially result in a modest decrease on the average monthly customer bill and a modest increase in later years. When averaged over 10 years the impact on customer bills is essentially zero, according to the utility.

The bill targets six sites for the utility microgrids:

  • The Bronzeville community
  • The Illinois Medical District
  • An airport in Winnebago County
  • Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center
  • DuPage County Courthouse and Administration Building
  • Water pumping and treatment in Chicago Height

HB 3328/SB1879 is available on the Illinois General Assembly website.

Separately, ComEd’s parent, Exelon, has partnered with Anbaric, an independent microgrid developer, to build microgrids in New York.

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About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of She has been writing about energy for more than three decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.


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