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Court blocks release of Illinois grid modernization study

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Court blocks release of Illinois grid modernization study

The release of a report examining grid modernization in Illinois will have to wait, a Cook County, Ill., court said.

The Circuit Court of Cook County granted a preliminary injunction Jan. 14 preventing the Illinois Commerce Commission, or ICC, and its chairman, Brien Sheahan, from releasing the study until a lawsuit alleging the study process violated Illinois law is resolved.

The Illinois Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and Chicago-based renewable and distributed energy developer GlidePath Development LLC, an affiliate of GlidePath Power Solutions LLC, filed a lawsuit in June 2018 claiming they lacked proper access to the power grid forum. The complaint alleged the ICC limited participation in certain working groups by capping the number of participants and violated the state's Open Meetings Act, which requires state meetings to be open and transparent except under certain circumstances.

Representatives for the Illinois PIRG Education Fund and GlidePath said in a joint press release issued Jan. 16 that blocking the release of a final report is the right call.

ICC spokeswoman Victoria Crawford said Jan. 17 that the court's ruling does not address merits of the case. "It merely maintains the status quo of the litigation," she said, adding that the ICC will continue to defend against the litigation.

The ICC kicked off a utility-of-the-future study process known as NextGrid in September 2017. As part of the effort, overseen by professors at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the ICC formed seven working groups to tackle topics including electric rates, new technologies, metering, community and customer participation, electricity markets, reliability, and regulatory and environmental policies.

The ICC denied the Illinois PIRG Education Fund access to two working groups to which it had applied. GlidePath Development got access to only one group after applying to all seven. Meanwhile, the state's two largest electric distribution utilities, Ameren Corp. subsidiary Ameren Illinois Co. and Exelon Corp. subsidiary Commonwealth Edison Co., were members of all seven working groups. Crawford said about 250 organizations took part in the study.

A draft final report released in December 2018 does not offer a specific roadmap to follow but gives an overview of the capabilities of Illinois' current grid and an evaluation of the tools, technologies and policies that need to be considered to bring the grid of the future to life. The draft report, however, includes recommendations related to electric vehicle-charging infrastructure, deployment of energy storage resources grid enhancements and privacy reforms.

Comments on the draft report were due Jan. 10, with a final report expected soon thereafter.

Abe Scarr, executive director of the Illinois PIRG Education Fund, said the report was drafted and edited outside of public view and with "undue influence" from utility interests.

Scarr said he did not want to speculate as to when the lawsuit might be resolved as discovery in the case is ongoing. The Illinois PIRG Education Fund and GlidePath are willing to hear proposals to remedy the situation. However, any conclusion must come with a finding or an admission that the Open Meetings Act applies to NextGrid and that the ICC and Sheahan violated the act, Scarr said.

"If it was important for our government to initiate, manage and issue a report, then it is equally important that our government do that openly, in view of the public and the press," Scarr said.