CARBONDALE — The Illinois Commerce Commission reversed a decision on a lawsuit April 4, allowing individuals involved with an electric cooperative to receive a cash back incentive for installing a solar power system.
According to Aur Beck, owner of Advanced Energy Solutions and a member of the Solar Business Coalition, commissioners with the ICC overturned a judge’s initial ruling that municipal and cooperative utilities be allowed to participate in the Future Energy Job Act funding opportunities.
He said, basically, this is a program that gives 30 percent cash back to anybody who installs a solar-powered system.
“The changes adopted by the Commission ensure that all Illinoisans and all regions of the state will benefit from the development of renewable energy resources, and the strengthening our clean energy economy,” said Acting Commissioner Anastasia Palivos. “The ICC would like to thank the Illinois Power Agency (IPA) and other stakeholders involved in this important and complex proceeding. We look forward to working closely with the IPA to ensure the Plan’s successful execution and a greener Illinois.”
Initially, Beck said, a group of energy companies filed a lawsuit to stop anybody who was in an electric cooperative to be eligible for cash back program. Those companies wanted the incentive to be for ComEd and Ameren customers.
This past year, 46 percent of his customers were co-op members who could have benefited from this program, he said.
The program requires electric utilities, and now cooperatives, to expand energy efficiency programs and reduce electricity waste, which would lower power bills by billions of dollars through 2030, according to the Citizens Utility Board.
Beck said the average installation cost is about $24,000 to $30,000. He said this judgement means as soon as a system is installed and turned on, the state will write a check for 30 percent of the costs to the system's owner.
“There was really a period of time where we were in flux because we didn’t know if half our customers could get this money,” he said.
Brent Ritzel, of Straight Up Solar, said before the decision, it was a scary time for anybody in the industry or anybody interested in solar.
“It was basically going to take the most equitable law in Illinois history — the Future Energy Jobs Act — and form it into the least equitable law,” he said.
Ritzel said the intent of the act is to provide solar resources where they are most needed, like rural areas and places with higher rates of poverty. Those areas are typically served by municipal utilities and rural cooperatives, which would have been excluded from the program if the lawsuit was upheld.
“Companies were looking at hiring several people to almost hiring no one and trying to learn how to manage in this unequitable age,” he said. “Now it’s an entirely different ballgame.”
Beck said there are about 56 electric cooperatives in the state. He said as his company turns 19 years old in June, there has never been a program where the state writes checks to customers on a regular basis.
“There have been grants, but nothing like this,” he said.
Ritzel said not only will it impact commercial and residential installations, but now rural electric cooperatives can participate in the solar movement. He said the cooperatives can now be involved in much larger shared systems that they wouldn’t have been able to do without the inventive.
“Now they can move forward and evolve,” he said. “Most cooperatives want to be involved in community solar, but that would have been eliminated without this action.”