ICC report reassures Illinois residents on utilities’ winter readiness

Published on November 29, 2021 by Chris Galford

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Prompted by failures and disasters like those experienced in Texas earlier this year, the Illinois Commerce Commission initiated and subsequently this week delivered a Notice of Inquiry Report on Extreme Weather Preparedness for the Midwestern state, noting that many factors are in place to prevent such a level of collapse.

“It is not a matter of “if” a weather crisis occurs, it is a matter of when,” D. Ethan Kimbrel, ICC Commissioner, said. “In the case of severe weather, customers need assurance that everything possible is being done to keep the lights and heat on, and outages will be brief as possible. It is essential that customers are informed of the steps being taken to mitigate the impacts of severe weather, specifically how extreme spikes in energy costs will be prevented.”

The NOI grilled utility service providers and operators on preparations taken to guarantee continued service during extreme weather events, prevent service interruptions, and reestablish service within reasonable timeframes. Unlike the situation Texas faced in February, Illinois has, as a starting advantage, access to two regional transmission organizations: MISO and PJM. These allow the state interconnection to multiple others.

For Illinois utilities, there is also access to adequate supply from a plethora of sources, as well as natural gas storage facilities. Many facilities are also already weatherized to face traditionally harsh Midwest winter conditions. Specifically, though, many of the state’s utilities also have worked to improve infrastructure and emergency generators, as well as installed backup systems for preparedness.

During questioning, some of these utilities did suggest the ICC study rule changes that could aid greater mitigation of extreme weather impacts. Other suggestions pushed regulators to incentivize reliability or resiliency investments, encourage customers to change power consumption to better match supply, install excess flow valves and other measures to promote gas safety, and more.

The ICC intends to use the responses to its NOI as a reference tool.