ComEd gets Illinois approval of $25 million Bronzeville mini-power grid – Utilities News

on Feb28

28 February 2018 | 6:09 pm

Commonwealth Edison won state approval today of a $30 million plan to build an isolated power grid serving the Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.

The “microgrid” for Bronzeville is a pilot project, to be paid for by all ComEd customers, to demonstrate whether the localized power-distribution networks can both improve reliability and facilitate greater use of renewable sources like solar power.

Ratepayers will shoulder $25 million of the costs while a $5 million Department of Energy grant will cover the rest.

To win backing of environmental and consumer groups, ComEd changed its initial proposal, which would have allowed the utility to own the generation assets in the microgrid.

Now, it has committed to use assets owned by third parties after conducting a bidding process.

Most importantly, from those groups’ perspective, ComEd has agreed to allow outside companies to form their own microgrids—dedicated, say, to serving sensitive installations like the Museum Campus or the Illinois Medical District—which would be paid for largely by the customers benefiting from the localized grids rather than all ComEd customers.

ComEd, seeing microgrids as investments that would lead to higher rates and revenues, originally was intent on organizing and forming the grids itself. Like other utilities, ComEd is grappling with how to boost earnings during a time of flat electricity demand. More capital investment is the industry’s most common response to its growth quandary.


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But utilities must win the approval of their regulators for those. In this case, the Illinois Commerce Commission provided that endorsement.

Microgrids essentially are a cluster of power-generation assets, dedicated to a small, discrete area, and able to serve that area when there’s a broader outage.

Microgrids “can advance the use of clean energy, act as a platform for smart cities, or allow neighbors to share excess power from their rooftop solar,” said Christie Hicks, manager of clean energy regulatory implementation for the Environmental Defense Fund, in a release.

In the past, ComEd has wanted to dive much more quickly into the world of microgrids. It proposed in legislation in 2016 to invest $250 million in five microgrids throughout its northern Illinois service territory. The state Legislature stripped out the microgrids language before passing the Future Energy Jobs Act in 2016.

There’s much discussion about the future of the power grid in recent years. ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore has spoken frequently about how today’s centralized grid was an innovation of the early 20th century and the grid of the future will be more flexible and better able to withstand cyberattacks and other threats.

In a release today, she said, the Bronzeville pilot will “provide critical learnings on how to protect against and recover from disruptive events, including extreme weather, as well as physical or cyber-attacks.”

Environmentalists and renewable-power advocates are pushing for policies that ease the way for more solar power and large-scale batteries in urban areas.

It’s unclear for now whether microgrids will be an instrumental part of achieving those goals. They make sense as a way to provide clean backup power to sensitive facilities like hospitals. Their worth to ordinary city neighborhoods is less clear.

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