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Consumers to pay the price for power grid shortage

Illinois lawmakers got an earful Thursday about expected electricity price hikes and the repercussions across the state, from farmers to faith leaders to manufacturers.

The Illinois House’s Public Utilities and Energy & Environment committees held a joint hearing Thursday to hear testimony from producers and consumers on upcoming rate increases announced by Ameren Illinois.

Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, is the federal organization that operates the power grid that serves Central and Southern Illinois. Representatives of MISO testified that due to surging prices, lack of energy storage, and supply chain issues, electricity is currently at a peak price.

Because of this, Ameren Illinois is increasing the cost of electricity for consumers. In an email Wednesday, Ameren explained to consumers “what you should know” about the upcoming changes. From the email:

“The primary reason you will see an increase in your monthly bill is because of the increase in the electric supply costs, which are collected on your utility bill and paid directly to power generators. Ameren Illinois does not profit from these charges. Inflation, the conflict in eastern Europe, and the closure of coal-fired electric generation facilities have caused an energy shortage, increasing power prices across the country compared to the same time last year.”

The Rev. Wade Halva was one of many advocates to testify at Thursday’s joint hearing. Halva presides over First Presbyterian Church in Marion in southern Illinois, and he said this hike will disproportionately affect already vulnerable populations in his area.

“Our region of the state already struggles with access to fresh nutritious food to physical and mental health care and population loss. These matters will only be exacerbated by these rate hikes,” said Halva.

Committee member Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, is a farmer when the General Assembly is not in session. Meier’s concern is less about the money and more about the consequences that power outages, whether planned or unplanned, could have on agriculture.

“If my power goes out now, and it was a very hot day, or a very cold day, we could lose our livestock. They wouldn't have water, the heaters wouldn't kick on, the fans wouldn't kick on. I've spent close to $20,000 last week, to make sure that my livestock will be able to survive if I'm not there to turn on the generator. All of our small businesses and our farms are going to have to do that,” said Meier.

Donovan Griffith of the Illinois Manufacturing Association said he believes there will be consequences unless Illinois increases its ability to generate and store power.

“Our situation is much like a family living paycheck to paycheck. We have just enough power to cover us this summer, but when something arises – such as a period of 100 degree days – we could see brownouts,” said Griffith.

MISO says that brownouts to conserve power are unlikely, but not impossible.

Maggie Strahan is a graduate student in the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois.