By: David Kolata, Executive Director, Illinois Citizens Utility Board (CUB)
In a matter of days, the second highest court in the land will hear argument in a landmark case about climate change.
The case is about the Clean Power Plan, which puts the first-ever limits on carbon emissions from power plants. With the court poised to hear challenges to this historic clean air measure, this is a good time to “clear the air” about a related matter — what the Clean Power Plan will mean for consumers.
Despite opponents’ gloomy predictions that electricity prices will rise, there is ample evidence to show that the Clean Power Plan will lead to consumer savings and broader economic growth.
By establishing thresholds for carbon reduction, the Clean Power Plan will promote investment in the parts of our energy infrastructure most conducive to innovation and economic growth, such as energy efficiency, storage, and local, distributed renewable power.
The advent of the smart grid, the increasing prevalence and declining cost curve of solar power and batteries, data analytics, cloud computing, and the “internet of things,” and improvements in automation and energy management, are all factors that have afforded consumers unprecedented power to conserve energy and cut costs without compromising comfort or convenience.
Thirty years ago, we were told to turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater if we wanted to lower our bills. These days “smart thermostats” virtually think for themselves, learning our consumption habits and helping us reduce wasted energy and expense. That’s just one example of how technology is reinventing the entire culture of energy use — curbing demand for power at peak periods while at the same time supporting the development of new products and services that are fueling entrepreneurship.
The Clean Power Plan can help catapult these advances forward by putting a premium on technologies that maximize energy savings. In Illinois, for instance, consumers reaped billions of dollars in savings after the state adopted a measure that required utilities to increase investments in energy efficiency. And our analysis shows that Illinois ratepayers could lower their bills by at least 5 percent over the timeline of the Clean Power Plan if we extend the program to its maximum reach and take full advantage of new technologies.
Consumers aren’t the only ones poised to prosper. The rewards for savvy investors can be equally abundant. The modernization of our electric grid is still in its fledgling stages, and while the digital age has transformed some of this landscape, other parts still wait for the historically slow utility industry to move.
Our electricity infrastructure represents one of America’s most fertile frontiers for continuing innovation, and the Clean Power Plan will provide a promising environment for capital expenditures on clean technologies, which will create jobs and help give consumers the tools and programs they need to lower bills.
That’s why the Citizens Utility Board joined with other consumer advocates, including Consumers Union and Public Citizen, in filing a court brief supporting the Clean Power Plan and its benefits for ratepayers. Because in addition to protecting the environment and safeguarding public health, the Clean Power Plan will improve the atmosphere for consumer cost-savings.
And we should all beware of any claims that consumers won’t benefit. In the end, that’s just so much hot air.