Speeding the Energy Transition
Nov. 1, 2022

Illinois Solar Program Update with Anthony Star, Former Director of the Illinois Power Agency EP 112.

Illinois Solar Program Update with Anthony Star, Former Director of the Illinois Power Agency EP 112.

Our guest today is Anthony Star, the former Director of the Illinois Power Agency (IPA). The IPA is the authority that oversees renewable energy implementation in Illinois. It was established in 2007 by Public Act 95-0481. In 2017, they established the Illinois Solar program as mandated by the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA). The Illinois solar program has risen from 80 MW in 2017 to over 1.5 GW of solar installations in 2021. 

In Sept 2021, the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) became the law of the land and greatly enhanced our Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and solar programs. CEJA is tasked to establish rebate and grant programs for electric vehicles and charging stations and oversee the phase-out of fossil fuel-fired electrical generation units in Illinois. 

They aim to get Illinois to 100% renewable energy and achieve 46% renewable energy by 2030, including over 17,000 MW of new solar energy and 6,300 MW of new wind energy.

Anthony Star was appointed as the Director of the Illinois Power Agency in 2013. In his role there, he oversaw the procurement of electricity for Illinois default service customers and the implementation of the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard. Previously he worked as a Policy Advisor to two Chairmen of the Illinois Commerce Commission and worked for a Chicago-area non-profit on energy and sustainability. 

On this episode of the Clean Power Hour, Anthony joins Tim Montague to discuss the updates made to the Illinois Solar Program and what the future for Illinois Solar looks like, and more. 

Key Takeaways

  1. The role of the Illinois Power Agency
  2. Anthony's role at the IPA
  3. The updates made to the Illinois Solar Program in 2021 
  4. The strides made by the Illinois Solar Program from its inception  
  5. How the program is funded 
  6. Institutions and Individuals that Illinois Solar Program update targets and why they are essential to the Illinois economy. 
  7. The difference between traditional community solar and the new community-driven community solar
  8. The goals for the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act(CEJA)

Connect with Anthony Star

Connect with IPA

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Transcript
Tim Montague:

The Illinois solar programme wind from a mere 18 megawatts in 2017. Over 1.5 gigawatts of installations in 2021. I guess today, on the Clean Power Hour is Anthony star. He's a repeat guest. He is the former director of the Illinois Power Agency, the agency that oversees the renewable energy programmes that includes solar wind, and to some extent battery storage here in Illinois. Check out all of our content at Clean Power hour.com. Please give us a rating and a review on Apple and Spotify that helps others find this content, which is so vital. We are growing the energy transition by 10s and 10s of 1000s of people. And this is vital information for energy professionals. Welcome to the show, Anthony star.

Anthony star:

Thank you. Great to be here.

Tim Montague:

Great to see you again. And looking forward to giving our listeners a quick update on Illinois solar. You know, we have what's known as Illinois shines or the adjustable block programme that most of my solar colleagues are very familiar with. There's also the solar for all programme, and then other programmes, but we're going to give our listeners a quick update on what's going on because we got major new legislation last year in 2021, known as Seija, the climate and inequitable JOBS Act which greatly expands our renewable portfolio standard. And as any solar or energy professional knows a good RPS is the foundation for a good renewable energy programme. So for our listeners, would you give us a little background on your role and the agency's role?

Anthony star:

Sure. So my role in all of this is that until September of this year, I was been the director of the Illinois Power Agency since 2013. I've now moved into a new role as a senior adviser to the agency and the interim BRG for our planning and procurement bureau. The IPAs role in the Illinois RPS is that we're the state agency tasked with running programme and running procurements to meet the goals of the RPS. We do this through setting out plans for how we do that and what's known as our long term renewable resources procurement plan, a long, detailed document that we then submit to the Illinois Commerce Commission for approval, and then and it goes through a proceeding regulatory proceeding there. And ultimately, that becomes the guidance for how we administer programmes Illinois as a state. We had developed this model back going back to 2007, when the Illinois power agency was created, where we lend procurements for certain types of resources for the utilities, and then there are the buyers of whether it may be energy for our energy procurements. It may be renewable energy credits when it comes to the RPS. So we have this model set out where the utilities are the ones collecting funds from their ratepayers to fund the renewable portfolio standards. The IPA administers the procurements and programmes and the ICC has a regulatory oversight. We'll go over all of this. And this model has evolved over the years significant changes with the future energy JOBS Act back in 2016 2017. I really revamped a lot of the Illinois RPS created the adjustable block programme, the Illinois solar fall programme and model of us having a long term renewable resources plan, which is one that's updated every two years. And then that was significantly updated again, last fall through Seija, which made some updates to have technical fixes to ways in which funding is allocated as well as grant brought in significant new aspects to our programmes. This was a new categories and a commitment on equity in the industry.

Tim Montague:

Yeah, we have a, a very good RPS now. And you know, it was it was it this started in 2008, with approximately what the 25% by 2025 RPS, and now we're gunning for what 40% by 2035. Is that right?

Anthony star:

What percent by 2030 within a two additional goal to get to 50% by 2040.

Tim Montague:

Okay. And that's referring to wind and solar specifically or including other resources.

Anthony star:

So the RPS in Illinois has a definition of eligible renewable resources that goes beyond just wind and solar, but then when you look at the specific programmes that the IP and procurements of the IBA IPA is tasked to do, they focus on on just wind and solar. So the activities we're undertaking are focused on the procurement reps from new wind and solar projects. I think one of the issues with the RPS prior to the future energy Jobs Act is it had a structure that pushed us towards procuring reps from existing resources on short term basis basis, rather than what we have now, first of fija now, and refined to Seija, which are an emphasis on procuring reps from new resources to help spur the change in the energy economy.

Tim Montague:

We're now about five going on six years into the you know, the modern era of renewables in Illinois, we have approximately 1.5 gigawatts of solar installations in the state, you can learn more by googling Lcia, Illinois fact sheet, they have a nice fact sheet. And they link to a nationwide database on solar projects and solar companies. So check that out. But this new legislation, you know, includes something like 650 megawatts of distributed generation, at least a year. So it's, it's, it's really a game changer. And it's very heady days, if you're, you know, a nonprofit, a school, a facility owner, you very much can take advantage of renewable energy. Now, there are very few barriers to entry. And, and this is this is very good, it's good for the economy, it's good for reducing air pollution. And of course, it's good for ultimately stepping back from the brink of climate chaos. So, in your words, though, Anthony, how has the programme gone? How did it go, you know, compared to how you thought it might go, I guess. And then, what do you see in your crystal ball for the coming years?

Anthony star:

Well, we've obviously seen a huge increase in amount of solar in Illinois, both at the utility scale level, as well as for distributed generation and, and increasingly more and more community solar projects coming online. So at one simple level, if the goal is to increase the amount of renewables in Illinois, that was jumpstarted, to Fiji, and we're seeing huge increases. Now there's a lot of lessons learned, I think there's a lot about how community solar projects are developed that lead to maybe, you know, large rush of applications back in 2019. One of the things CJ has done is to carve out two different paths for community solar, giving us a more objective criteria on how to select projects rather than, you know, just first come first serve. So there's a lot of things that are adjusting that way. The other thing that obviously I'd be remiss not to mention is the impact of COVID. Like so many parts of our culture and economy, it had a huge impact on the solar industry with development grinding to a halt for a substantial period of time, and the ongoing delays that it's still creating in supply chains. Interconnection approval. So while we've had a lot of success, some stuff is is not where I think we thought it would be. And I think we can't separate out the impact of COVID on shipping the fundamental changes to our common primitive going forward. One of the significant aspects of Seija is there were some technical aspects of Fiji in terms of how funding was collected, used, and then any, any unused funding return to customers that sort of was creating bottlenecks. So I think one of the things that I'm excited about from TJ is that it it fixed some some of the accounting treatments of funding for renewables as well as increase the amount of funding collected each year. And so that's one of the things that I think will be very helpful, sort of in the long term pain to putting together a path forward for the ongoing significant expansions that we'll need to see to meet our RPS goals.

Tim Montague:

Yeah, let's touch on this. The programme is funded by a fee on consumer power bills. So if you're a consumer or a business owner, in the IOUs, that's Amarin, comed and MidAmerican. Look on your power bill, and you will see a small fee. And it and it is identified as a renewable portfolio standard fee or something like that, or renewable energy fee. And that was capped I think 2%. The cap is now what?

Anthony star:

Oh, it's I should know it off the top my head is I believe it's four point something percent. I'm thinking. Yeah, it's over 4% percentage. Yes.

Tim Montague:

So we doubled the funding

Anthony star:

it also the other key part of that is the basis. So a percentage, it has to be a percentage of something. So the baseline that the percentages calculated against also was reset. And the combination of the two resulted in more than doubling the annual funding collected by the utilities.

Tim Montague:

Yeah. And one of the other major shifts, so to speak, in the new legislation last year and 2021. This is what we call Seija. Not to be confused with Phaedra Phaedra was part one starting in 2017. Future energy jobs act now we have CGI, the climate and equitable JOBS Act. CGI includes carve outs for schools, for community driven solar, and for equity eligible contractors. Can you touch on those three things and why those are important to the Illinois economy?

Anthony star:

Sure, I think they're each important in their own way. So starting with schools, one of the challenges that schools have as they're looking at solar is the decision making process for installing solar at a government facility, which a school in essence is gonna be very different from the decisions that a, you know, that private sector actors can make in terms of when they signed contracts, how they want to move forward. So I think the idea of carving out a portion of the programme for schools that may again, have a different pathways towards deciding versus private sector projects, I think was a very valuable part of CGI, and one that will help ensure that schools all across the state have solar projects, that's still very much in its infancy. I think, again, because of the longer decision making timeline that schools have, we're not yet seeing significant activity in that aspect of the adjustable block programme, but I'm sure it will come along as as schools work through their proposals they get for developing solar and start submitting them. The second one is you mentioned was what's known as community driven community solar. I think this is also really significant because there's different models and different visions for what community solar might be. And the initial model we had from the future energy JOBS Act, which was sort of an open the door so that led applications come in, really pushed community solar projects towards Greenfield sites. So it made sense for developer to look for somewhere where they could find, you know, the 15 to 20 acres they might need, close to a good interconnection plan. Those tended to be Greenfield sites, not necessarily located close to where the customers who are subscribing to the community solar projects might be located. So it achieved the goals of the concept of a community solar project where you can have subscribers and ascribe to a share of a larger project. But the community piece of community solar, maybe a little bit weaker in that model. So in Seija, having what's known as community driven community solar, where we have criteria for projects that focus on connections to the communities where the subscribers are likely to be, I think sort of puts the word community back front and centre in community solar projects. That aspect of the adjustable block programme is one where we have a application window. And then we will be evaluating a scoring project. So again, we're still sort of waiting to see what comes in there. But I'm confident that we'll see strong participation, and it will increase the community solar projects that are more tight, tightly tied to the communities where their subscribers are located. And the third leg you mentioned is the concept of equity eligible contractors. And this again, is an important part of Seija. In that it reserves a portion of the adjustable block programme from projects submitted by what are known as equity eligible contractors. And these are contractors wear this definition of what it knows equity eligible persons in the law. It's a combination of someone who maybe has come through one of the job training and workforce development programmes, someone who lives in environmental justice, or what's known as our three community communities and in a variety of different ways, have disproportionately felt the impact of environmental and socio economic pressures, or also people who are formerly incarcerated or coming out in the foster care system. So again, this is a way where the intent of the General Assembly as I understand it was to broaden the scope of companies working in clean energy space, developing projects being a beneficiary of contracts to sell renewable energy credits. So by having this carve out, it sort of expands the pool and diversity of the industry.

Tim Montague:

Can you tease apart for us the difference between traditional community solar, we have a very good community solar programme here in Illinois. And now we have this community driven community solar, though, what, what defines community driven versus traditional? Again, it's

Anthony star:

an emphasis on criteria that are set on law and then be further elaborated into what our long term plan around things like ensuring that a project was developed. In response to an RFP issued by a community organisation or local government to develop community solar commitments to having the subscriber to the project be within a certain geographic area versus where the project is several other criteria? Well, again, it's emphasising the community work and community solar rather than having, you know, some places have referred to at times community solar, sometimes it's called shared solar. And that in some ways, might be a more apt description for the traditional community solar projects,

Tim Montague:

okay. And when it comes to schools, I'm personally developing school solar projects, if you're a school administrator, please reach out to me, I would love to analyse your rooftop. And, you know, at the, at the end of the day, rooftop solar reduces your power bill. It provides a learning environment for STEM education, science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And, and then it also is bringing local jobs and and tax benefits to a local community. But what did you perceive as the barriers? Or what do you perceive as the barriers to entry for public schools when it comes to adopting solar installations?

Anthony star:

Well, I mean, prior to the changes in adjustable block programmes to make this carve out for public schools, we were seeing participation of public schools in the programme. So it's not like there was a barrier that kept them from participating. But again, I come back to the fact that they have different decision making processes to ensure you know, you know, the way contractors are selected, etc, things like that. And so I think the to me, it's making sure that as schools go through their decision making process that they're not, they're not shut out by other types of projects that might be developed and filling up the capacity of the decimal block programme.

Tim Montague:

Yeah, I think that's, that's the crux of it is private companies will have a different decision making process and, and may sop up all of the capacity, so to speak. And so it is, it's great to have a carve out per se, for schools, and we have 100 megawatts a year now, I think for public schools. So that's, that's a sizable allotment. Well, what else should we talk about? I want to talk about solar for all addicts. That programme is now greatly expanded as well. That is a parallel universe to the adjustable block programme focused on low and middle income communities. And, but But yeah, what do you want to talk about regarding solar for all,

Anthony star:

I think you hit the key points of where it's focused on. One of the things that we've seen in solar for all of that initially, the uptake for projects being submitted that were coming from single family, low income homes, it was was very slow, and it has increased over the last year. One of the things though, that we proposed in our most recent long term plan that was approved by the Commission in July, we finalised it in August, there's a number of pilots to sort of see what we can do to reduce some of the soft costs around identifying low income solar projects. And so we'll be running some pilots going into next year, starting next year to sort of see what we can do to help with the customer acquisition costs for that programme, as well as things like you know, whether or not there can be nominal expenses related to things like loot, you know, which repairs move suitability. So my observation looking at low income solar programmes around the country is that they take a while to get off the ground. And so I think we're seeing definitely that that same curve here, where it was started slowly again, and again, we're beginning to pick up steam, but we're certainly not the volumes that we hoped for. And I'm hopeful that the pilots that I mentioned, some other adjustments, and things like we increase the wreck prices a bit to appreciate pictures of the development costs associated with low income solar. So hopefully, those will begin to see and yield real benefits for the solar Hall programme. Another interesting aspect of solar for all that came out of CGI was the concept of energy sovereignty, where the General Assembly had a real interest in wealth building in low income communities. And so now a portion of the funds are reserved for projects that promote what's known as energy sovereignty, which is a complicated concept, but in essence, is focused on the idea of local ownership, local control, and wealth building now to how to actually implement that it's very complicated. We're still working out some of the details there. But again, I think there's gonna be a real emphasis on energy sovereignty as a component of this whole problem going board.

Tim Montague:

And now we're layering on some benefits from Ira, the inflation Reduction Act, which is federal legislation, which has carve outs for example, for energy communities. These are communities that have coal plants or coal mining facilities in them. And of course, we're going through an energy transition. coal and natural gas plants are being shut down and replaced with solar wind and batteries. And so it's great to provide alternative jobs and career paths for the workers that are impacted by those transitions. And just just so our listeners are clear, the the the Illinois solar programme incentivizes the installation of solar at the residential, commercial community and utility scales. And, you know, looking at this fact sheet from SEIU a, I have to say it's been a smashing success, especially last year. Now, there's a massive influx of utility scale solar in Illinois. And this is really good for rural communities. From a financial perspective, it's good for landowners, landowners can triple their income by leasing their property to solar developers. It's great for the tax base, which is good for schools. And but then if you're a business owner, you can reduce your power bill by 50 to 75%. If you're a homeowner, same thing, reduce your power bill by 50 to 75%, a consumer can save upwards of $1,000 a year by installing solar on their home. And if you're not a homeowner, or if you have a shady roof, you can participate in community solar. And that is why community solar is so important. Because not everyone can put or wants to put a solar array on their rooftop. So it is a comprehensive programme. In our last few minutes together, Anthony, what else would you like to highlight in terms of successes, and what you see, as you know, the goods coming out of the programme in the coming year coming years, I will highlight that, you know, according to the SEIU, a fact sheet, the solar industry has invested $2.7 billion in the Illinois economy including 1.2 billion in just in 2021. So this is very good for our great state of Illinois. But what else would you like our listeners to know about the the IPA and the adjustable block and solar for all programmes?

Anthony star:

Well, one thing I was reflecting on as he was going through some of some of those numbers is just the change in scale that we've seen something prior to the future energy jobs act. No one had an exact number. But the best estimates were that maybe it was 80 megawatts of solar installed in Illinois, when we had this previous solar programme called the supplemental photovoltaic procurement, you know, if we saw a 100, or 200 kilowatt project in that programme, that was a big deal. The scale had just shifted. Fundamentally, we're seeing utility scale solar projects at the 100 201 project even even bigger than that. So we're seeing individual solar projects that are larger than the total amount of solar that had been hadn't been installed in Illinois to 2017. We're seeing plenty of one megawatt sometimes even bigger distributed generation projects, the community solar projects are almost all two megawatts, we'll be increasingly seeing five megawatt solar community solar projects due to changes, changes in the law. So I think to me, one thing that's really exciting, is just seeing how the scale of what's possible in solar has changed over the years. And this is really essential because we have an ambitious RPS to meet the climate goals that change goals that we we have before us, we need a lot of solar, we need a lot of wind. So being able to see that how the industry has developed to be able to produce these large scale projects, I think to me is one of the things that has been just a shift over the past few years and one that helps us continue see going forward.

Tim Montague:

Hey, everybody, thanks for listening to the Clean Power Hour or viewing it on YouTube. We do have a great YouTube channel. If you're not subscribed, please go to clean power dot group and hit that YouTube icon and subscribe to our channel. Of course, you can find all of our content on your favourite audio platform as well. So please give us a rating and review back to the show. Yeah, it really is night and day when you look back to 2017 versus 2021. And so these things work and, and you know, our programme is is an amalgam of programmes. that were developed on the East Coast and the West Coast. Right the coasts were the earlier adopters. We're, by some measure about 10 years behind states like New York and New Jersey and California. But now we're we're touching up where a, you know, a number 10 Solar state in the country. And, and we have a good 10 year runway with with Seija. Now, so, it that is a great foundation, and I'm just so grateful to our legislators, to the Illinois Solar Energy Association to all of the solar professionals who, you know, worked on this and of course, to you and your staff for stewarding the programme. So well. What other closing thoughts do you have? I'm sorry, that to see that you have, that you are stepping down from the IPA, Anthony and and making a transition yourself, but But what else should our listeners know about the programme? Especially I guess, if they have not here to for, you know, been aware of the programme, what should Illinoisans know about solar in Illinois?

Anthony star:

Well, I'd like to start by saying I appreciate those words. My staff have worked incredibly hard over the past several years to implement these programmes, we're really committed to ensuring that they are successful. And that's been a lot of hard work and long hours. Personally, for me, I mean, I, you know, I think that the IPA nearly 10 years or so long time was a long time to be a director of a state agency. So I plan to continue to be involved in the energy economy in Illinois going forward, haven't yet decided what that looks like. But the IPA is in good hands going forward in terms of the team that we developed there. I think in terms of what consumers may be interested in, so I think, get multiple bids before deciding to instal so what do you do your research, there's a lot of great resources out there before making decisions. One of the key things that we've done in Illinois, we have a model that is not prescriptive, that allows for different models for solar company. So there's companies that will lease your system, there are companies that will sell you a system, there's large national companies in the market, there's small and medium sized solar companies with a something like the equity eligible contractor block that we discussed. Now, if you're interested in more about the company that's installing your solar that can also give you options going forward. As as that builds out, that, you know, you may want to look for an equity eligible contractor. So I think we have lots of options going forward. But again, it always comes down to you know, these are major decisions for someone to make to instal solar on their home. That, you know, it is worth taking the time and effort to do some research to make sure you know, all your options.

Tim Montague:

Well said. And just to highlight, you know, we do have now about 300 solar companies operating in Illinois, it's a very healthy economy. And of course, new companies are moving in every year or being started up. If you're a contractor, if you're an energy professional or an aspiring energy professional and you want to get better connected to the solar industry, please reach out to me. I'm Tim Montague, just go to clean power hour.com and hit the Contact link. You can find all our contact. Sorry, you can find all our current content at Clean Power hour.com. Please give us a rating and review on Apple and Spotify. And subscribe to our YouTube channel. Just click the YouTube icon at Clean Power hour.com. And I want to thank Anthony star, the former director of the IPA, the Illinois power agency for coming on the show again. Thank you so much, Anthony.

Anthony star:

It was a pleasure.