ANALYSIS: Energy bill fact checks needed after first Bailey-Pritzker forum | columns | Panda Anku

SPRINGFIELD — There was a lot to unpack at Wednesday’s candidate forum, where Gov. JB Pritzker and his Republican challenger Sen. Darren Bailey appeared on the same stage, albeit at different times, for the first time this campaign season.

For starters, I wrote an article earlier this week reviewing the governor’s claim that significant jargon has been eliminated from the final 2021 energy bill known as the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act. That law, which Pritzker signed, included a provision giving a private transmission line that power in seven counties.

Now it’s time to check his challenger as well.

“I had several counties in my district that went through a three-hour power outage two weeks ago,” Bailey told a group of farmers at Schuler Farms in Lexington. “The first time. It’s coming. It’s preventable.”

Only there is no evidence that power outages have occurred anywhere in Illinois.

And when I asked the Bailey campaign for more details about which counties had experienced blackouts, they responded with only a statement calling Pritzker’s energy policies extreme.

Yesterday, the Capitol Fax blog appeared to be the first outlet to address Bailey’s claim, uncovering an uncredited article dated August 5 that was published on a website that is part of a notorious “pay-to-print” network is historically associated with right-wing candidates.

Bailey was heavily quoted in the “article” noting that White and Wayne counties experienced a three-hour power outage on July 30. Capitol Fax reported that the Wayne-White Counties Electrical Co-op had no such “brownout” event, although there could have been storm-related outages. I called there and was told the same thing.

The Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, is the state-regulated regional broadcasting organization serving 15 states, including most of Illinois outside the Chicago area.

The carrier informed me that they were unaware of “brownouts,” which is a term they don’t use.

“Since Friday, August 26, MISO has been in normal operating conditions throughout the month,” a spokesman said. “None of our emergency operating conditions this summer have resulted in power disruptions.”

How energy gets from the grid into the house is immensely complicated.

To summarize some of this, MISO procures power capacity each year, which is a promise that generators can bring a certain amount of power online during the grid’s peak demand periods.

The threat of blackouts entered the mainstream discussion when MISO’s 2022-2023 capacity auction fell short by 1,230 megawatts, contributing to load concerns and higher energy prices in the state.

What that means for reliability, according to the company’s analysis, is the “Loss of Load Expectation” — a measure of how long, on average, available generation capacity is expected to lag behind load demand — for the sub-region encompassing Illinois from the yearly target of 0, 1 day per year increased to 0.179 days per year.

The target is 0.1, not 0, because there is always a chance that power consumption will exceed available capacity, even in “normal” years.

At a three-hour committee hearing in May, lawmakers heard testimony from energy experts that surprise out-of-state fossil fuel shutdowns were the main reason for this year’s capacity shortages, as CEJA’s decarbonization measures had not yet taken effect.

Those measures include massive subsidies for renewable and nuclear energy and a requirement that fossil-fuel generators be offline by 2045 — although state regulators can override those dates in the event of load problems.

While the likelihood of load disruptions has risen only slightly this year, MISO at the May committee warned that the likelihood could increase in coming years as more fossil-fuel power plants shut down if new generators like renewables or battery storage don’t quickly go online enough.

“MISO believes it’s likely to get worse before it gets better,” Melissa Seymour, MISO’s vice president of foreign affairs, told the House committee in May. “Unless more capacity is built, especially capacity that can reliably generate power in tight system conditions, the shortfalls we’ve seen this year will only worsen going forward.”

Some of CEJA’s key supporters in the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition have pointed the finger at MISO, noting at a July news conference that 6,000 megawatts of transmission projects are in the RTO’s “queue” awaiting approval to begin operations Begin the process of incorporating the grid.

Pritzker suggested the same thing at Wednesday’s Ag Forum.

“MISO lost the job,” he said. “That’s why Illinois needed to pick up the pace on solar and wind power and make sure we were producing more energy, not less. This is what the Climate and Equal Opportunities Act does. It helps us produce more energy.”

In a statement to Capitol News Illinois in July, MISO said it understands the urgency of bringing new energy to the grid and even has more than 6,000 megawatts in the works.

“Currently, MISO is processing 95 requests for the state of Illinois generator connection queues (a total of over 15,000 megawatts), which is 12 percent of the total requests MISO has received for the entire 15 states,” spokesman Brandon Morris told Email in July. “MISO is and will remain ‘on the job’ of ensuring reliability is maintained while also handling this unprecedented number of unique requests to connect new resources.”

MISO and its member states, Morris said, have also recently worked to reduce the time it takes for a generator to connect to the MISO grid, which has been commended by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

A few days after their press conference, CEJA supporters praised MISO’s planned transmission upgrades, noting: “You need to move faster to approve these renewable energy projects that will bring prices down and improve grid reliability.”

Another possibility is that producers who have bid in the Northern Illinois capacity markets see that the higher premiums are being paid in the state and decide to sell their capacity commitments elsewhere.

Given the complexities of power generation, these are just a few of many factors that will determine whether “brownouts” in Illinois and elsewhere will move from abstract political talking point to reality.

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