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What Do You Mean by Green?

Seemingly eco-friendly definitions can prevent adoption of renewable portfolio standards.

Fortnightly Magazine - October 1 2003
Table 2 - The RPS

all kilowatt-hours sold in 2005, 5 percent in 2010, 15 percent in 2020, and a number of smaller steps in between. 1 The bill defined "renewable energy resources" as:

Wind, solar thermal energy, photovoltaic cells and panels, dedicated crops grown for energy production and organic waste biomass, hydropower that does not involve new construction or significant expansion of hydropower dams, and other such alternative sources of environmentally preferable energy. 2

The definition goes on to identify resources not deemed renewable, most notably waste wood and municipal waste. The bill requires that all power counting toward the RPS must have been generated in Illinois. The problem is that such a restrictive definition makes it extremely unlikely that the RPS goals of the legislation's advocates could be achieved. The numbers tell the tale.

Illinois generated 177,447,035 MWh of electrical energy in 2000. The figure for 2003 3 is probably larger, but this example will use the 2000 figures and not assume any growth in load. To satisfy the RPS in 2005, Illinois would need to domestically generate more than 3,500,000 MWh (about 403 MW of average capacity) of energy from renewable fuels in 2005. By 2010 and 2020, that number would increase to more than 8,800,000 MWh (1,008 MW) and 26,600,000 MWh (3,023 MW), respectively. Because these figures assume no growth, the actual need likely will be greater. In reality, any percentage increase in Illinois' total generation would induce the same percentage increase in required renewable-based generation.

Very little green capacity exists in Illinois. According to the Renewable Electric Plant Information System (REPiS), a national database of renewable-fueled plants run by the U.S. Department of Energy, Illinois had less than 140 MW of installed capacity from renewable power at the end of 2002. 4 Almost 75 percent of that comes from landfill gas, about 25 percent from hydroelectric dams, and less than 1 percent from photovoltaic cells.

The room for growth from these fuels is not nearly enough to support the proposed RPS. Neither solar nor geothermal resources in Illinois can support utility-scale projects. New hydroelectric dams do not qualify for the H.B. 2200 RPS, and landfill gas is a useful but limited resource. For the sake of argument, consider the upper bound for average generation from these fuels as about 200 MW by 2020-well short of the 3,023 MW required by that year.

With other resources accounted for, wind-fueled plants must make up the balance. Wind farms in Illinois could realistically achieve up to a 25 percent capacity factor given the lack of winds above class four. Thirty-five percent is the steadfast upper limit, even with any of the technological advances in the near future. 5 A liberal estimated range for the necessary wind generation to fulfill the RPS for 2005 is 1,152 to 1,612 MW (35 percent capacity factor to 25 percent capacity factor) of installed capacity. The RPS would continue to increase until 2020, leveling at 8,638-12,093 MW, depending on the average capacity factor.

The massive amount of required wind generation to meet the RPS levels and definitions in the Illinois