N. Duane Noland, President/CEO AIEC
Your Shelter From the Perfect Storm
Co-ops are involved in the solutions for our energy future
Your electric cooperative is facing many challenges as it strives to meet your energy needs. The members you elected to the board of directors, the CEO and employees who work for you are planning for the future while facing an incredible number of issues and uncertainties. Those involved in this process often talk about a “perfect storm” that is forming.
The elements of this storm include the need for more power, rising costs for fuel to generate electricity, escalating prices for the materials needed to build power plants, expensive emissions control equipment and new federal regulations, all set against a background of debate on climate change.
The good news is the growth in energy demand we are experiencing means a boost for our state’s economy. But the downside is that these challenges mean it’s getting harder to meet your energy needs in an economical fashion.
Electric cooperatives are investing in a diverse portfolio of generation resources. Our portfolio of generation resources includes renewable energy, clean-coal technology and natural gas, along with energy-efficiency programs that have postponed the need for additional power in the short term.
Co-ops are also being very proactive and innovative in exploring new energy options. One Illinois co-op was the first distribution co-op in the nation to install a wind turbine. Two more are also exploring the possibility of installing wind turbines. Another Illinois co-op has plans to build the first biomass generating plant in the state.
It will take all of these options plus your support by using energy efficiently to make sure we have enough energy to fuel a growing rural economy. For example, consider just one new factor in the rural Illinois energy landscape - ethanol. Although some ethanol plants are struggling to get started, it is obvious to me that we need to build more ethanol plants here in rural Illinois. We need to lower our dependence on foreign oil to the extent we can, and ethanol is one answer. Ethanol plants will, however, require more electricity.
Look around your own home or business and I’ll bet you’ll find dozens of new items you’ve added in the last few years that use electricity. Computers, DVD players, cell phone and iPod chargers. Oh, and how about that new high definition TV you got for Christmas. Did you know that a 42-inch plasma TV uses as much energy as a full-size refrigerator? Some estimate that 5 percent of our electricity is used to power all of these new gadgets when they’re just sitting there in standby mode.
Not only is the increased demand for energy and the increased cost of producing energy going to impact your co-op and your electric bill, so will energy legislation. Legislation addressing climate change and other energy issues will have a price tag. We will be actively involved on your behalf with the climate change and energy debate.
The climate change issue is critical. We must get it right. Part of the discussion must involve our energy security and the impact on our economy all the way down to your meter and your monthly bill. On one side of the debate there are those who don’t want any more power plants built that use coal for fuel. We believe this is a shortsighted view.
Coal is by far the most affordable way to generate electricity. Technology is in place and being used today to reduce emissions. We believe a mix of resources that includes coal offers the best option to help electric cooperative members weather this perfect storm. We are very excited that Illinois was chosen as the site for the new FutureGen project. It will be the model for future coal-fired generating plants throughout the world.
New clean coal generating technology has to be a part of our energy future and the majority of the Illinois electric cooperatives are participating in the Prairie State Energy Campus. This generating plant will use 21st century technologies, making it among the cleanest U.S. coal-fueled plants with emission rates that are approximately 80 percent lower than existing U.S. power plants.
Illinois co-op leaders are also committed to innovative use of renewable energy sources. Co-ops have also been leaders in energy efficiency technology such as geothermal heat pumps. We are committed to continuing to explore innovative new energy resource options and energy efficiency technology.
The bottom line is we need to include all the options, all our technology, all our efforts to use energy efficiently in order to solve this perfect energy storm.
Electric co-ops represent a unique viewpoint in this energy debate because co-ops are owned by the members. I hope you will let your co-op leaders know how you feel about this issue. We promise to continue to print articles that will help you understand this complex issue. There are no easy answers. But we must all be engaged in the debate and the solutions.
N. Duane Noland is the President/CEO of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives, Springfield. He is a former state senator, active on his family farm near Blue Mound and a member of Shelby Electric Cooperative.
The opinions and views of guest commentators are their own and may not represent those of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives or the electric co-ops of Illinois.
© 2008 Illinois Country Living Magazine.