Chicago Microgrid Receives Judge’s Backing Amid Criticism

Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood is one step closer to getting a microgrid courtesy of ComEd. Though the project received crucial support from Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) administrative law Judge Jessica L. Cardoni, not everyone is happy with the private utility’s plans.

In a proposed order filed on January 24, Judge Cardoni recommended that the ICC’s board approve ComEd’s plan to build a $29.8 million microgrid, responding to ComEd’s petition to the ICC.

ComEd called the microgrid a “pilot project” in the petition and outlines what it believes are the project’s benefits. First, ComEd said the microgrid, covering about one-fourth square mile of Bronzeville, would benefit 1,000 residential and commercial customers with more reliable and resilient energy, as microgrids can run independently from the larger grid during service outages. The company also explained that the project will improve understanding of how microgrids work, their design and their operation. The petition also mentioned the microgrid would be able to link to an already existing microgrid on the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) campus, making it the first project in North America involving two microgrids linked together—another learning opportunity according to ComEd.

If approved, the project would be partially funded through a $4 million grant from the Department of Energy.

Although interest in learning about and utilizing microgrids is widespread, the project is also being criticized for a variety of reasons.  

Some believe a different location (with necessary services like banks, supermarkets and gas stations) should have been chosen to better serve a larger group of people in the event of an emergency. Others are apprehensive about how much influence a commercial utility should have in developing a microgrid. Concerns have also been raised about the microgrid's reliance on natural gas and diesel, and ComEd’s original plan to own the electricity generated from the microgrid, before the company altered its proposal, agreeing to take bids for or lease the power to third-parties. The office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked the ICC to reject ComEd’s proposal, saying that the microgrid would only benefit a small number of Chicagoans though customers from across northern Illinois would in effect be paying for it.

The ICC has until February 28 to rule on the proposal.

About the Author

Hannah Fullmer

Associate Editor
Hannah Fullmer is the associate editor at ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. Contact her at hfullmer@necanet.org .

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