by Shanita Bigelow
As a nation, America is facing many challenges, chief among them, the economy, education and healthcare, but the rate of climate change has buoyed the need for renewable resources and the environment up there with them.
“We are a nation that has seen promise amid peril, and claimed opportunity from ordeal,” President Barack Obama said in his February 24 address to a Joint Session of Congress. “Now we must be that nation again…It begins with energy.”
The Obama Administration, determined to create more jobs, lower energy costs, and our dependence on foreign oil, has promised to invest in a nationwide transition to renewable
resources like wind and solar power, clean coal and biofuels.
On such project, the “Green Power Express,” proposed by ITC Holdings Corporation, a Michigan-based transmission power developer, has gained preliminary approval by the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission for a 3,000 mile wind power pipeline. But the costs, estimated between $10 and $12 billion, has been a cause of concern for Illinois consumer advocates.
“[We] definitely support wind power, but you have to ask, what are the benefits, what are the costs? [Is it] green power for the sake of green power?” Jim Chilsen, spokesman for the Citizens Utility Board (CUB), said.
Illinois consumers would have to pay a portion of the potentially $12 billion project, but it is too early to know just how much. The question is, whatever the cost, is it worth it?
“…the Green Power Express…would result in a reduction of up to 34 million metric tons in carbon emissions…equivalent to the annual emissions of about…nine to 11 million automobiles,” said ITC Holdings spokeswoman, Louise Beller. “A modern grid will solve our environmental and renewable energy challenges and improve reliability and associated costs to the economy.”
The obvious benefits of this regional project, designed to transfer wind power from wind-rich states in the upper Midwest to cities like Chicago, are astounding, but perhaps misleading,
according to Mark Pruitt, executive director of the Illinois Power Agency.
Wind is variable, according to Pruitt, and would need to be backed up by additional energy sources like coal or natural gas. And just as variable as the wind, is consumer demand.
“Variable input [wind] and demand are very hard to balance… it throws pricing,” Pruitt said.
There are other green projects that would be more beneficial to Illinois consumers, according to Chilsen.
“Do we [Illinois] have enough energy? Yes,” Pruitt said. “Do we need more power? No. Do we need more renewable energy? Arguably, yes. Should we develop or import [it]? We have to weigh the costs.”