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Illinois commended for local renewable energy buys

Published: Friday, March 7, 2014 5:34 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, March 7, 2014 5:35 p.m. CDT
Caption
(News-Gazette file photo)
Several wind turbines are seen Nov. 23, 2011, east of Paxton, Ill. A new report released Friday by national and state environmental groups, including the World Wildlife Fund and the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, says Illinois leads the nation when it comes to switching to renewable energy.

CHICAGO – Illinois has more cities providing 100 percent renewable energy than any other state, which has reduced pollution by the equivalent of removing a million cars from the road over the past few years, according to a report released Friday by national and state environmental groups.

A 2009 state law allowed communities to buy their own electricity, rather than relying on a central purchasing agency. Since then, more than 600 Illinois cities and towns have adopted aggregation, which allows them to bundle residential and small business customers to buy cheaper electricity in bulk from smaller suppliers.

Of those, 91 provide all renewable energy, either by buying it directly or buying credits that help fund renewable energy development, the report says.

Five other states – California, Ohio, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island – also allow communities to buy electricity, but none comes close to matching the renewable energy Illinois is purchasing, said Keya Chatterjee, senior director for renewable energy and footprint outreach at the World Wildlife Fund.

"It is huge what is already being done," in Illinois, Chatterjee said. "This is a story about local choice, and [Illinois] is choosing renewables in town after town after town."

The central Illinois city of Normal began aggregation about 1½ years ago, allowing officials to buy electricity at lower rates than they would have gotten otherwise, said Mayor Chris Koos.

He said aggregation also "meshed with broader community sustainability goals," which include trying to improve the environment. Normal buys renewable energy credits, which helps fund development of power sources such as wind and solar.

Chatterjee said the next step is for more cities to buy renewable energy directly, which will help create jobs in Illinois while benefiting the environment, Chatterjee said.

Last year, Chicago officials announced that 5 percent of electricity used by city residents and small businesses who participate in aggregation was supplied by Illinois wind farms. They said they will consider increasing that percentage when the current contract ends.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said the report's findings could be a model for other states that are considering allowing community aggregation.

"Illinois is showing what can happen when change at the local level is harnessed to create a collective movement, and I hope other states take notice," Durbin said.

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