Power by numbers

By Vanessa Morton

The need for energy efficiency was agreed on as environmental activists, analysts and science professors were brought together on Oct. 11 to discuss sustainability issues globally and locally.

Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Ill.), a member of the Environmental Health Committee and Sen. Heather Steans (D-Ill.), co-hosted an “Energy and Environment” town hall meeting at Loyola University Chicago’s Richard J. Klarchek Information Commons Building, 1032 W. Sheridan Road.

The event included a panel discussion from Tom Wolf, executive director of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce’s Energy Council; Barry Matchett, an Environmental Law and Policy Center representative; and Nancy Tuchman, professor of biology at Loyola.

The panel discussion included an overview of where energy comes from, the impact of renewable energy and the importance of global energy efficiency.

Wolf briefly spoke about what he called a “big picture perspective” on how and where the state gets its energy, which he said involves sources locally and globally. Wolf said most of Illinois’ energy is from nuclear and coal power plants.

The U.S. contains 25 percent of all known coal in the world, and about 48 percent of the state’s electricity comes from coal-burning power plants. Wolf said Illinois, which produces almost 34 million tons of coal that is used to provide electricity locally and globally, is ranked ninth in the nation in terms of coal production.

The industry has an $80 billion direct impact on the state, which also provides 50,000 direct and 100,000 indirect jobs. Wolf said many people might have an issue with coal plants because of regulated emissions, but coal is still a vital energy resource, and has gotten cleaner.

“In fact, there is more energy in Illinois coal reserves than in the oil in Saudi Arabia,” Wolf said. “I’m not saying you have to like it, but you have to realize politically that a lot of people rely on coal for not only energy, but their jobs.”

According to Wolf, another 48 percent of electricity produced in our state comes from nuclear power plants. He said most people don’t realize how much the state relies on nuclear energy.

“These plants have given us decades of reliable energy without greenhouse gas emissions,” Wolf said.

However, despite current ways to find energy, Wolf said the most important strategy for energy efficiency is to use less. Matchett explained the impact of renewable energy on energy efficiency, and said by conserving energy, tax-payers would see a great reduction in electricity costs.

Matchett said the best way to reduce state costs is through solar energy, which is increasingly cost competitive since 1976.

“It’s simply an easy technical innovation, which continues to evolve,” Matchett said. “We hear this all over that the cost of coal makes it very competitive and [we] should continue to invest in coal and not something like solar. However, when you look over the next 10 years, by 2020, solar will be noticeably cheaper than coal.”

While energy efficiency reduces taxpayer dollars, Matchett said there are many hurdles that need to be faced.

One challenge, he said, is changes in current state statutes that impede on Illinois’ Renewable Electricity Standard. RES requires that 25 percent of electricity is provided by renewable energy sources by 2025.

“[We] need to make sure that the people who are taking the financial risk [of solar energy] are able to get a long-term contract,” Matchett said. “So we want them to have the ability to go to a bank and take out loans because these projects will really help our renewable energy community.”

However, Matchett said the biggest hurdle comes from the public’s lack of awareness on energy efficiency demand.He said many people never know where their money goes for energy, and the largest percentage is spent on heating. People have come to believe that repairing household appliances saves more money and energy.

However, Matchett said consumers save by buying new appliances that might seem costly but are specifically designed to save energy.

“So energy efficiency in [your] home, where all of us are spending a vast majority of money, has very easy solutions,” Matchett said. “When it comes to new appliances like boilers and furnaces, it’s the simple stuff that costs money and is highly effective when paying the consumer back.”

Tuchman agreed with Matchett about the lack of awareness and said there is a very critical role that universities play in bringing this environmental issue to young people.

“We have the ability to change hearts, so we can teach people about the problem and get them involved in finding solutions,” Tuchman said. “They realize the world they were brought into is kind of a mess, and it’s old people, like myself, [who] have made it that way so we need to try to lead by example.”