ComEd Provides Finishing Touches to Improvements in Northbrook

Wednesday June 20, 2012
Posted by Spark Energy Staff at 16:04
Tags: comed

Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd) is wrapping up its $2 million electricity infrastructure improvement project in Northbrook, Ill., a project village officials said should help prevent the kind of power outages that overwhelmed Northbrook last summer.

Northbrook director of public works Kelly Hamill said that ComEd’s electricity infrastructure project has been designed to yield several improvements:

  • The installation of almost 10,000 feet of new overhead power lines — called Hendrix cables, which are designed to better withstand punishment from storms and, especially, from contact with falling tree limbs — should help prevent power outages by 75 percent
  • The relocation of the village’s mid-circuit recloser — an automatic switching device that helps minimize the number of customers affected by outages — to a more effective location near downtown
  • The replacement of underground cables in areas that are prone to outages
  • An increased tree trimming program to help prevent outages from falling limbs
  • A revised strategy for communicating with village officials during storms

Hamill said ComEd’s finishing touches involved switching power from the old lines to the new lines, transferring individual residential services to the new power lines and removing the old power lines.

The village’s mid-circuit recloser will be moved in late June or early July, Hamill said.

Sources

ComEd Improves Electric Lines in Northbrook to Decrease Outages,” Chicago Tribune, May 31, 2012.

ComEd Releases Online and Mobile Tools for Better Outage Information

Thursday May 31, 2012
Posted at 09:04

comed_storm_tools.jpgIllinois electricity utility Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd) has released an online map and a smartphone app to help better communicate with customers about power outages during storms and provide information about how the utility is responding.

ComEd announced May 7 that it had a new color-coded map on its website that would allow customers to easily find clear information about power outages. The map, which is auto-updated every 30 minutes, provides details such as crew status and estimated power restoration time.

Presumably, customers who are experiencing a power outage and can’t access the map on their computers could still access the map with a battery-powered mobile device with a cellular data plan, such as an iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone or tablet.

The utility also announced a free mobile app for iPhone and Android smartphones that will help customers easily report power outages and check restoration status. The app can be downloaded from ComEd’s website or the Apple and Android app stores.

Sources

ComEd Adds Map, Mobile App to Storm Response Tools,” Bloomberg Businessweek, May 8, 2012.

ComEd Warns Customers that Party Balloons Are Causing Power Outages

Thursday May 24, 2012
Posted at 09:20

How Balloons Can Cause Power OutagesYou know those helium-filled Mylar party balloons that you get at the grocery store for birthday parties? They might light up your kids’ faces, but they could also end up turning out the lights.

According to Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd), Illinois’ largest public utility, Mylar balloons that are released from outdoor birthday parties, graduations and weddings have a tendency to wander gently into the sky — and right into power lines.

In a news release warning customers of the dangers of Mylar balloons released outside, ComEd said that so far this year, the festive floaters have caused power outages affecting roughly 11,000 customers, which is significantly higher than the 6,700 customers that were affected by balloon-related outages during the same period last year.

The utility said the number will rise even more this summer, as the temperature increases and more parties are held outside, unless families take precautions and secure balloons that are used outdoors.

ComEd said that when the metallic skin of a Mylar balloon contacts a power line or a part of substation equipment, it can create an electric surge that may lead to a short-circuit, power outage or even a fire.

To help cut down on power outages from Mylar balloons, ComEd recommends that you take a few precautions:

1. Make sure balloons are tethered or secured and attached to weights or sturdy structures at all times

2. When you’re done with balloons, puncture them to let the helium escape and dispose of them properly

3. You should always assume that power lines are live; make sure that you, your belongings and anything you are carrying are least 10 feet away from power lines at all times

Under no circumstances should you try to recover a balloon or other toy that’s become entangled in an overhead power line; instead request assistance by calling ComEd at 800.334.7661

Sources

ComEd Warns: Balloons Can Cause Power Outages,” Buffalo Grove Patch, May 5, 2012.

ComEd Upgrades, Grid Modernization Projects Begin in Illinois

Monday May 21, 2012
Posted at 11:38
Tags: comed

Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd) announced in March that it was beginning its massive 10-year, $2.6 billion grid modernization project, which will affect the electricity utility’s entire service area.

In a news release, ComEd said it plans the following improvements to be completed by the end of the first quarter:

1. Replace or reinforce utility poles at approximately 250 locations, to help maintain the grid and improve reliability in storm conditions.

2. Replace or inject more than 506,000 feet of underground residential distribution (URD) cable — the electrical cable they bury under the ground in neighborhoods to take electricity to homes — in order to reduce the number of cable failures.

3. Other enhancements designed to improve performance and reduce service interruptions include lighting enhancements, installing nearly 600 distribution automation devices, replacing more than 32,000 feet of mainline cable, assessing manholes at 660 locations and testing 12 sections of cable.

Additional work planned throughout 2012 includes replacing or reinforcing utility poles at 1,400 locations, replacing or injecting more than 1.6 million feet of URD cable, performing additional lighting enhancements, installing more than 430 distribution automation devices, trimming trees in approximately 2,300 locations, replacing more than 15,000 feet of mainline cable, conducting testing on nearly 100 sections of cable and assessing manholes at more than 3,200 locations.

Planned Upgrades in the Suburbs

About 65 suburbs in ComEd’s service area will be targeted for upgrades. Here’s a sampling of the affected areas, according to the Daily Herald:

Arlington Heights

First quarter of 2012: Replace more than 8,900 feet of URD cable. Installing six distribution automation devices, replacing 20 feet of mainline cable and testing.

Remainder of 2012: Replace more than 18,900 feet of URD cable. Tree trimmings in four locations.

Des Plaines

First quarter of 2012: Replace over 270 feet of URD cable. Installing four distribution automation devices and testing.

Remainder of 2012: Replace about 560 feet of URD cable. Replace and reinforce utility poles in one location. Tree trimming in eight locations.

Elgin

First quarter of 2012: Replace more than 680 feet of URD cable. Replace more than 2,700 feet of mainline cable.

Later in 2012: Replace about 30,400 feet of URD cable. Tree trimming in more than 20 locations.

Gurnee

First quarter of 2012: Replace more than 150 feet of URD cable. Installing eight distribution automation devices.

Remainder of 2012: Replace more than 17,890 feet of URD cable. Tree trimming in more than 15 locations.

Hoffman Estates

First quarter of 2012: Replace more than 19,320 feet of URD cable. Replacing more than 1,500 feet of mainline cable.

Remainder of 2012: Replace more than 18,000 feet of URD cable. Tree trimming.

Lombard

First quarter of 2012: Install lighting enhancement and one distribution automation device.

Remainder of 2012: Replace nearly 27,900 feet of URD cable. Tree trimming in 14 locations and installing three distribution automation devices.

Palatine

First quarter of 2012: Replace more than 45,300 feet of URD cable. VLF testing in one section.

Remainder of 2012: Replace more than 49,600 feet of URD cable.

Schaumburg

First quarter of 2012: Replace more than 46,900 feet of URD cable.

Remainder of 2012: Replace more than 38,400 feet of URD cable. Installing four distribution automation devices and tree trimming in eight locations.

Wheaton

First quarter of 2012: Replace nearly 11,400 feet of URD cable.

Remainder of 2012: Replace more than 14,050 feet of URD cable. Installing four distribution automation devices and tree trimming in 14 locations.

Wheeling

First quarter of 2012: Replace more than 3,250 feet of URD cable. Lighting enhancement and installing two distribution automation devices.

Remainder of 2012: Replace more than 50,600 feet of URD cable.

Over the course of ComEd’s 10-year grid modernization project, which was approved in October, the utility will spend $1.3 billion on infrastructure and equipment maintenance and upgrades and another $1.3 billion on installing smart meters while digitizing and upgrading the electric grid.

Sources

ComEd Outlines Upgrade Plans for Suburbs,” Daily Herald, March 8, 2012.

Significant Electric Grid Modernization Work Coming to ComEd Service Area,” ComEd press release, March 8, 2012.


ComEd Offers Tips to Help Customers Avoid ComEd Impersonators

ComEd Scam WarningIllinois electricity utility Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd) is offering a few tips about how to avoid a rare, but important problem reported by a few of its customers– people impersonating ComEd employees for personal gain.

There have been less than 30 reported incidents in which individuals have shown up at customers' homes or businesses claiming to be from ComEd but, in reality, are unaffiliated with the utility. The small number of impersonators have reportedly tried to assert their fake ComEd identities to get access to customers’ personal information, but ComEd says there are a few things to watch for, and a few things customers can double-check, that make it easy to avoid problems with ComEd impersonators:

  • Customers should always ask to see a company photo ID before allowing any ComEd utility worker into their home or business
  • ComEd employees never ask for cash payments or personal banking information, such as credit card numbers, so you should never pay on-site for services
  • ComEd employees don’t engage in telemarketing activities or door-to-door sales activities
  • If anyone comes to your home or business wearing clothing with old or defaced company logos, make sure to double-check their authenticity by asking to see a company photo ID — and if you have any doubt, don’t let the individuals into your home
  • Customers can verify if a ComEd worker is in the neighborhood by calling toll-free 800-EDISON-1 (800-334-7661)

ComEd said that customers who believe they’ve had a run-in with an impersonator should call the police and report the incident.

Sources

ComEd Warns Customers of Impersonation Scams,” Morton Grove Champion, March 26, 2012.

Illinois Reminds Electricity Customers to Call 811 Before They Dig

Monday April 23, 2012
Posted at 10:29

National Safe Digging MonthIt might not seem like it, but digging in the yard around your home can be pretty dangerous. Digging can cause power outages and can even be hazardous to your health if you hit an underground power line that’s carrying electricity to your home. That’s why the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), the public utility regulator in Illinois, has passed a resolution declaring April 2012 National Safe Digging Month.

The ICC said it wants to use National Safe Digging Month to remind Illinois excavators and residents to call 811 before they dig. Doing so will connect them with their local One Call Center to request that utility lines be marked anywhere that digging needs to be done. Like the ICC says, “safe digging is no accident.”

Speaking of safe digging, check out our post about electricity safety when working outdoors around the home.

And if you’re planting trees on your property, we’ve got a post about some things you should consider when planting trees near power lines, including how close — or how far away — you should plant them.

Good luck, and don’t forget to call 811 before you dig.

Sources

Illinois Commerce Commission, “Resolution 12-0268: Supports 811 — the Call Before You Dig to Locate Utility Lines.”

How Illinois Residents Can Get Low-Interest Energy Efficiency Loans

Monday March 26, 2012
Posted at 10:52

There’s a lot of talk these days about saving money off utility bills by making simple, energy-efficient improvements around your home and changing the way you do certain things. Upgrading to CFL light bulbs or setting back your thermostat when you’re not home can be good first steps to cut energy costs, but some energy efficiency improvements, such as upgrading to an energy-efficient furnace or installing high-efficiency windows, can carry significant price tags.

While some expensive improvements may be worth it in the long run, the upfront costs might be too high for many Illinois residents. But since the benefits of energy efficiency include everything from lower utility bills to less pollution to less strain on the electric grid, it’s important that financing be available for homeowners who need it. To help Illinois homeowners, Energy Impact Illinois (EI2), an organization led by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), has partnered with several local banks and credit unions to make sure homeowners can get low-interest energy efficiency loans.

Which Energy Efficiency Improvements Qualify?

There are two main categories of energy efficiency improvements that qualify for EI2’s low-interest loan program:

Boiler or furnace with additional items

Illinois homeowners who upgrade their boilers or furnaces are eligible for low-interest energy efficiency loans. Homeowners are also eligible for low-interest loans to finance water heaters, programmable thermostats, central air conditioners and other ENERGY STAR appliances and equipment as long as the upgrades are done in conjunction with boiler or furnace upgrades. Improvements must be installed by participating heating and cooling contractors.

Whole home improvements

Illinois homeowners are also eligible for low-interest energy efficiency loans to cover whole home improvements, which are considered to be any recommendation by a certified energy auditor that results in an estimated comprehensive energy savings of 15 percent or more. Improvements must be installed by participating energy upgrade contractors.

Who Are the Participating Lenders and What Are the Loan Terms?

EI2 has partnered with Green Choice Bank, Members Alliance Credit Union and North Side Community Credit Union to offer the low-interest energy efficiency loans. All of the institutions offer unsecured loans with minimal paperwork and quick approvals. Each institution has its own loan terms. In some cases, the institutions will offer secured loans for amounts exceeding their stated maximums for unsecured loans.

Green Choice Bank serves homeowners in the seven county Chicago region. Loan amounts range from $2,500 to $10,000 with a maximum repayment term of 7 years. Home equity loans are available for more expensive energy efficiency projects.

For more information, call 773.799.9400 or visit www.greenchoicebank.com.

Members Alliance Credit Union offers low-interest energy efficiency loans to homeowners who live or work in the City of Rockford. The minimum loan amount is $500. The maximum loan amount is subject to the borrower’s ability to repay. The maximum repayment term is 5 years. Eligible members must be existing or new Members Alliance Credit Union members that meet certain income and financial requirements.

For more information, call Pat Smith at 815.226.3278 or visit www.membersalliance.org.

North Side Community Federal Credit Union offers low-interest energy efficiency loans to existing or new members who live, work or worship in the Chicago neighborhoods of Uptown, Edgewater, Lakeview or Rogers Park. Loans are offered up to $6,500 with a maximum repayment term of 5 years. Eligible members must meet certain income and financial requirements.

For more information, call Jennifer Sierecki at 773.769.5800, extension 227, or visit www.northsidecommunityfcu.org.

For More Information

For basic loan details or for information on the EI2 low-interest energy efficiency loan program, call EI2 at 855.9.IMPACT (855.946.7228).

EI2’s list of participating heating and cooling contractors.

EI2’s list of participating whole home contractors.

Sources

Energy Impact Illinois, “Energy Impact Low Interest Loans.”

The Best Ways for Illinois Residents to Save Money off Energy Bills in 2012

Friday March 23, 2012
Posted at 08:38

You’ve probably heard a lot of talk about how you can cut energy costs in 2012 by decreasing the amount of electricity, natural gas and water you use. After all, who doesn’t want to save money this year? But many of the types of changes you’d have to make go beyond simply turning off the lights when you leave the room. A lot of the things you can do to make your use of electricity, natural gas and water more efficient require you to spend money on home improvements. If only there were a convenient way for Illinois residents to quickly compare the costs and benefits of common home improvements and other efficiency projects.

That’s where we come in. We’ve taken data from Energy Impact Illinois (EI2), an organization led by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, and analyzed it so that you can get a quick idea of home improvements you can make to lower your monthly bills, how much the improvements cost and how soon you can expect to make your money back and start saving.

Top 10 Most Efficient Home Improvements

It’s important to understand how efficient home improvement projects are. One of the best ways to rank the efficiency of a home improvement is to compare the cost of the improvement to the amount of money you can expect to save every year after making the upgrade. That will let you know how soon you can recoup your investment and when you’ll really start to save some money. According to EI2, here are the top 10 most efficient home improvements Illinois residents can make.

Rank

Improvement

Average
Cost

Average
Annual Savings

Annual
Payback %

1.

Install a faucet aerator

$5

$10–25

200–500%

2.

Upgrade to CFL light blubs

$15

$28–75

186–500%

3.

Dry clothes on drying rack or clothesline

$20

$23–70

115–350%

4.

Upgrade to a low-flow showerhead

$25

$25–82

100–328%

5.

Change out your furnace filter

$10

$10–30

100–300%

6.

Install a programmable thermostat

$50

$131

262%

7.

Insulate your water heater

$25

$10–27

40–108%

8.

Seal air leaks around your home

$200

$150

75%

9.

Insulate your home’s attic/roof

$1,000

$300

30%

10.

Install a solar water heater

$1,000

$209–323

20–32%


Top 10 Home Improvements with the Highest Annual Savings

For those who’d like to see which home improvements simply save the most bucks, here’s a list of the top 10 home improvements that produce the highest annual savings, according to EI2.

Rank

Improvement

Average
Cost

Average
Annual Savings

Annual
Payback %

1.

Install solar panels on your roof

$12,000

$259–863

2–7%

2.

Insulate your home’s exterior walls

$2,500

$90–350

4–14%

3.

Insulate your home’s attic/roof

$1,000

$300

30%

4.

Install a solar water heater

$1,000

$209–323

20–32%

5.

Upgrade to a tankless water heater

$700

$80–200

11–29%

6.

Upgrade to a high efficiency gas furnace or boiler

$1,000

$66–180

7–18%

7.

Seal air leaks around your home

$200

$150

75%

8.

Install a programmable thermostat

$50

$131

262%

9.

Upgrade to a high efficiency clothes washing machine

$600

$80–120

10–20%

10.

Upgrade to a heat pump water heater

$1,000

$49–101

5–10%


Top 9 Free Ways to Save Money off Energy Bills

What list of efficiency improvements would be complete without a look at the top free ways you can lower energy costs? Most of these ways simply require that you make a decision or change a behavior and all of them can start saving you money right away.

Rank

Improvement

Average Annual Savings

1.

Lower your thermostat in the winter*

$28–132

2.

Wash clothes in cold water

$60–110

3.

Raise your thermostat in the summer*

$34–93

4.

Get rid of a second refrigerator

$20–80

5.

Lower your water heater temperature**

$28–61

6.

Use celling fans instead of your air conditioners

$37–53

7.

Use a power strip for electronics and appliances

$22–35

8.

Close your blinds or curtains during summer days

$15–35

9.

Clean your air conditioner filter

$10–30

* At least 10 degrees for eight hours a day, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

** To at most 120 degrees. Every 10 degree reduction in water heater temperature can save between 3–5 percent in monthly energy costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Sources

Energy Impact Illinois, “Find Energy-Saving Actions & Incentives.”

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “Lower Water Heating Temperature for Energy Savings.”

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “Thermostats and Control Systems.”

Basic Information on Electric Choice for Illinois Residents

Thursday March 15, 2012
Posted at 10:12

illinois-electric-choice.jpg

If you live in Illinois and have electricity distributed to your home by ComEd or Ameren Illinois, you live in an area that has been deregulated. That means the public utility monopolies, which were once the only companies that could sell electricity, have been broken up and the ability to sell electricity expanded to include alternative retail electric suppliers, or ARES, that are allowed to supply electricity and compete with each other for your business.

As a result, you’ve been given what’s referred to as electric choice, which means you can choose whether to buy your electricity from your utility or from an alternative retail electricity supplier.

Although electric choice can sometimes be confusing, it’s really quite simple. Here is some basic information about the roles that the electric utilities and ARES play in areas of Illinois that have electric choice, how they affect you, and what choices you can make about your electricity supply.

What the Deregulated Electric Utilities Do

ComEd and Ameren Illinois take electricity that is put onto the grid by power generation companies and distribute it to your home. This is called electricity distribution.

The utilities are also responsible for maintaining, repairing and upgrading all of the equipment used to distribute power to your home, including wires, poles, transformers and meters. Additionally, the utilities are responsible for responding to emergencies related to distribution, such as power outages and sparking wires.

The utilities aren’t in the business of selling electricity, which is referred to as electricity supply, but they are required to sell electricity to you if you choose not to buy your power from an ARES. The price of electricity supplied by the utilities is set and regulated by the state through an annual auction.

ComEd and Ameren Illinois view all of their electricity distribution customers equally, regardless of who supplies their power. Customers who receive electricity supply from the utility aren’t treated any differently than customers who receive electricity supply from an ARES. The way the utilities provide customer service, fix equipment and respond to outages and other emergencies is the same for everyone.

What the ARES Do

The ARES are only involved in electricity supply. Unlike the utilities, the ARES aren’t involved in dealing with equipment like wires or poles and are not involved in responding to outages or other emergencies. If you choose to buy your electricity from an ARES, the utility that distributes power to your home will still be responsible for maintaining equipment and responding to outages.

ARES have more flexibility with pricing, which can benefit customers. Because ARES compete with one another for your business and purchase power in bulk continuously throughout the year, they may sell electricity at lower rates than the utilities.

Like any other kind of company, ARES are not all the same. They best ARES offer competitive rate plans, high levels of customer service and provide additional features such as a comprehensive website, mobile-friendly information and Spanish-language customer service representatives.

What Choices You Have

If electricity is distributed to your home by ComEd or Ameren Illinois, you have only one, simple choice to make: who to buy your electricity from. You can’t choose the utility that distributes electricity to your home, but you can choose whether that electricity is supplied by the regulated utility or one of the competitive ARES operating in your area.

It’s important to note that you’re not required to switch to an ARES. However, if you choose to buy your electricity from your utility, you’ll have no choice when it comes to your electricity rate or the terms of your electricity plan, which are both regulated by the state. The only way to have an option when it comes to rates and plan terms is to shop around for an ARES that gives you the best combination of pricing and features.

Sources

Plug In Illinois, “Electric Choice Basics.”

Illinois Public Facilities Get Help With Energy-Efficient Lighting Upgrades

commercial-fluorescent-lights.jpg

Public facilities in Illinois are eligible for financial incentives that can help them upgrade to more energy-efficient lighting prior to a planned phase out of certain types of commercial fluorescent lamps beginning in 2012.

The state’s Illinois Energy Now (IEN) program is run by the State Energy Office of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO). It offers incentives for lighting upgrades to local, state and federal government facilities, public schools, community colleges, public colleges and universities that can help the facilities decrease energy costs. The incentives are available to government customers served by Ameren Illinois and ComEd.

“By offering incentives to make lighting upgrades more affordable, we are helping to ensure our public facilities can spend more resources on direct service instead of keeping the lights on,” said DCEO Director Warren Ribley.

The incentives help offset costs associated with the planned phase out of older, less efficient T12 fluorescent lamps, which will be replaced with more efficient T8 and T5 fluorescent lamps. The fate of T12 lamps was sealed by a 2010 U.S. Department of Energy mandate that requires the phase out of magnetic ballasts used in the operation of T12 lamps. The older lamps will be out of production by July 2012.

According to Illinois Energy Now, the new T8 and T5 lamps will bring immediate energy savings of up to 50 percent in addition to improved lighting performance and simpler maintenance. The incentives, which are provided as grants or rebates, help cover the costs of changing or retrofitting lighting systems, including lamps and fixtures.

The types of public facilities that are considered to be highest priorities for the IEN lighting upgrade program include those with older lighting systems still in place, those with the highest energy costs and those with lighting systems that stay on continuously, referred to as uncontrolled lighting, as opposed to newer systems that are controlled with motion sensors.

The DCEO, with its partners, including SEDAC (Smart Energy Design Assistance Center) and the Trade Ally Network, will provide resources and technical assistance to help determine the right course of action when it comes to planning energy-efficient lighting improvements at existing facilities or enhancing the design of new facilities.

More Information on the Public Facilities Lighting Upgrade Program

To learn more about the Illinois Energy Now lighting upgrade incentives, visit www.illinoisenergy.org.

For more information about the T12 lamp phase out, visit www.connexiones.com/t12-phase-out.

The incentive program has specific contacts for the incentive program based on public facility type:

Sources

State Offers Program for Public Facilities to Upgrade Lighting,” East Peoria Times-Courier, Dec. 20, 2011.

Illinois Department of Commerce and Opportunity, Illinois Energy Office, “Office of Energy and Recycling Programs November 2010.”