Guest Commentary: Commission should reject Ameren's filing

Guest Commentary: Commission should reject Ameren's filing

By CINDY SHEPHERD

Advocacy is part of Faith in Place's mission. We help people of faith understand the moral dimensions of policy decisions that affect the home that we share. We work with legislators and other public officials, knowing that they must balance many considerations and believe that they are doing a difficult job to the best of their ability.

We do not think or speak about "good guys" and "bad guys." We do not label people we disagree with as "bad actors."

We negotiate in good faith. We try to find common ground and build upon it.

That is how we approached the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA), a path-breaking law passed last year by the Illinois General Assembly that puts our state in position to be a leader in growing the clean energy economy, generating jobs, savings and health benefits.

And that is why we are speaking up now, requesting that Ameren Illinois live up to the modest energy efficiency targets set for them — with their input — in the new law.

This Missouri-based utility corporation negotiated a lower energy savings goal for its central and southern Illinois territory than ComEd, the utility serving Chicago and its suburbs. Now, after the fact, they are appealing to the Illinois Commerce Commission to have the target lowered even further. The target is significant, because meeting it means Ameren gets a financial "bonus" for achieving its goals. We think they should meet the original target to earn that bonus.

We invite this giant corporation to work with those of us who have challenged their plan, to find a satisfactory solution. We are saddened that, to this point, the utility has taken an adversarial posture, attacking messengers, impugning the motives of those who disagree with them and attempting to divide and conquer the coalition of consumer, public policy and faith groups that questions why Ameren can't do what they said they would do.

Ameren's argument is that their lower target is an acceptable outcome, since they claim that they will concentrate benefits to low-income clients. Ameren has created a false choice. We know that they are capable of accomplishing both goals. It is not "either-or."

Indeed, if Ameren were truly committed to serving low-income people, the company could easily redesign its plan, rather than spending significant money on very expensive programs. As it stands, Ameren's plan would cost 44 percent more per kilowatt hour than would ComEd's. That certainly can be improved — to the benefit of all customers.

What people of limited means in central and southern Illinois need — above all — are jobs. Energy efficiency is an economic engine for Illinois. More than 86,000 people are currently employed in the field. But new jobs are going to be created where a utility invests; in this case, in Chicago and its suburbs — where ComEd is poised to meet or possibly exceed energy saving goals. We want more of those jobs in our local communities.

People in southern and central Illinois also need relief on their utility bills, a direct benefit from energy efficiency. By denying the people of central and southern Illinois the economic benefits of the Future Energy Jobs Bill — while forcing them to pay more for electricity — Ameren is hurting the people of central and southern Illinois, especially our most vulnerable who can least afford it.

There are good people on both sides of this debate. But, there is only one policy outcome that will truly serve the common good. On behalf of the people of central and southern Illinois, and especially the low-income families in this region, we urge the Illinois Commerce Commission to reject Ameren's filing, and to ensure that Ameren Illinois meets the energy savings goals outlined in the Future Energy Jobs Act.

The Rev. Cindy Shepherd is central Illinois outreach director for Faith in Place, which partners with communities of faith around Earth Care issues. Faith in Place is a member of Illinois' Clean Jobs Coalition. In August, Shepherd and a delegation of faith partners testified before the Illinois Commerce Commission, asking the commission to reject Ameren's request to lower energy efficiency targets.