Week in Review: DCFS, drugs, energy costs & more

CHILDREN

Durkin Calls on DCFS Director to Resign. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin called on DCFS Director Marc Smith to resign after it was recently revealed that he had been held in contempt for a ninth time for failing to protect Illinois’ children in care.

“Unfortunately, contempt of court orders against DCFS have become business as usual for the Pritzker administration. Governor Pritzker clearly isn’t bothered by a ninth contempt of court charge against DCFS Director Marc Smith and has done nothing about it – that is simply unacceptable. The Governor has had three and a half years to get this agency under control – he owns this ongoing tragedy. Since the Governor has failed to take action, I call on Director Smith to resign for the good of the children in this state who depend on DCFS.


CRIMINAL LAW
Inmates being moved out of Pontiac Correctional Center. Established in June 1871, the Pontiac Correctional Center currently serves as a prison for maximum, medium, and minimum-security inmates of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC).

The current move affects prisoners classified as medium-security inmates. Buses with these inmates have left one of Pontiac’s oldest buildings in recent days, and an advocacy group has been told that some have been transferred to another facility near Centralia, Illinois. An IDOC senior executive says that an aging Pontiac cellblock lacks hot water and heat, and reports that more than 150 inmates have been transferred to other locations within the IDOC system in Pontiac.

The inmate moves come as community leaders in Pontiac are expressing increasing concerns about the future of the 150-year-old prison complex and its jobs. Press reports, which IDOC has so far refused to comment upon or verify, say that the Department is working on plans to shut down the Pontiac medium-security unit and reduce the Correctional Center’s capacity by more than 60%. This could result in significant transfers or layoffs of Pontiac corrections employees. The IDOC hot-water-and-heat statement to a reporter was published on Monday, April 25.

DRUGS
National Take Back Day on Saturday, April 30. The problem of drug chemicals has many facets, including drug dependence, drug overdoses, and the challenges faced by the family members and friends of those who take drugs inappropriately. One of these facets is the danger that powerful, sometimes brain-altering chemicals may simply be forgotten, to hang around Illinois homes indefinitely. Forgotten drugs may be swallowed much later under circumstances for which they were not prescribed. Much more often, though, forgotten drugs are thrown into the trash or flushed down the toilet, leading to possible contamination of groundwater and drinking water sources.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and its partners among U.S. law enforcement, operates a series of National Prescription Drug Take Back Days to encourage the free disposal of unwanted prescription drugs. A National Take Back Day, featuring bins in partner local offices for the safe disposal of these drug, has been set for Saturday, April 30. Drugs thrown into the bins are separated from the general waste stream and disposed of safely.

ENERGY
Fears of soaring electricity prices, rolling blackouts, in summer 2022. This week the State of Illinois issued a grim announcement to its residents. ComEd, the electric utility that operates the “last mile” for most of Illinois’ residents in northern Illinois, is part of the PJM electrical grid. In good times, electricity flows back and forth across this grid to wherever it is needed the most. However, for summer 2022, the State has not been able to get the PJM grid, nor any supplier of electricity within the grid, to quote a price-point peak for electricity by the kilowatt. This lack of a price quote could move Illinois’ electricity prices this coming summer from “partly deregulated” to “fully deregulated.” Last-mile suppliers such as ComEd will have to buy electricity for whatever price it is being sold for, and pass the costs along to their customers. Rolling blackouts are also possible throughout the ComEd service area.

Last week, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) released the results of its 2022-2023 annual Planning Resource Auction (PRA) indicating capacity shortfalls in both the north and central regions of MISO. This encompasses parts of 11 states in the Midwest. MISO remains committed to continue its work with members and state regulators to maintain grid reliability across the entire 15-state MISO footprint.

“We have anticipated challenges due to the changing energy landscape and have communicated our concerns through the Reliability Imperative. We have prepared for and projected resource fleet transformation, but these results underscore that more attention is required to offset the rate of acceleration,” said MISO Chief Executive Officer John Bear. “These results do not undermine our ability to meet the immediate needs of the system, but they do highlight the need for more capacity flexibility to reliably generate and manage uncertainty during this transition.”

The Local Clearing Requirement – capacity required from within each zone – was met for the entire MISO Region, but Zones 1-7 cleared at the Cost of New Entry (CONE).
  • Zones 1-7 (parts of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin) all cleared at $236.66/MW-day.
  • Zones 8-10 (parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas) cleared at $2.88/MW-day.
Load Serving Entities (LSEs) that entered the MISO auction without enough owned or contracted capacity to cover their requirement (load plus reserves) will pay these prices for the amount of capacity they are ‘short’. The cost impact to consumers of those LSEs with a shortfall will depend on the amount they are short and the LSE’s retail rate arrangement with their state regulator. LSEs that entered the auction with sufficient capacity to cover their requirement will not need to purchase capacity at these prices.

“The reality for the zones that do not have sufficient generation to cover their load plus their required reserves is that they will have increased risk of temporary, controlled outages to maintain system reliability,” said Clair Moeller, MISO’s president and chief operating officer. “From a consumer perspective, those zones may also face higher costs to procure power when it is scarce.”

Electricity costs will soar beginning in June in central and southern Illinois, due to inadequate power supplies following coal-fired plant closures. Ameren Illinois is within the MISO grid covering much of downstate Illinois.

Critics of policies phasing out coal and natural gas in favor of renewable power are seeing their doomsday forecasts start to come true far faster than even they thought. The price shock downstate also hands Republicans who didn’t support Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s sprawling, costly Climate & Equitable Jobs Act, or CEJA, last year an issue in the upcoming election.

The statute requires the closure of all fossil fuel power plants in Illinois no later than 2045. Effectively, it’s made the usual method of addressing power-supply shortages—construction of new natural gas-fired plants—uneconomic and significantly reduced the tools available to address the shortage that’s emerged.

JOBS
Meta Platforms Inc. announces plans to double size of new DeKalb cloud center. The server-filled, megafactory-sized data center will store and shift data for Facebook, Instagram, other members of the Meta Platforms family, and customers. When built, the expanded data center will be the largest such facility in Illinois and will support more than 20 permanent operational jobs. Hundreds of construction workers are currently building the billion-dollar project, which was first announced in June 2020.

Illinois’ infrastructure has made it a nationwide showplace of the data center industry. With a comparatively reliable network of high-voltage electric power production, substantial open space for buildouts, a centralized national location, a data-hungry financial service sector, and a well-trained workforce, the Prairie State has become a location of choice for senior data players worldwide. In 2019, the General Assembly enacted SB 690, which included language declaring data centers to be a key industry of Illinois and offering incentives to invest in data centers located in Illinois. Meta announced its facility buildout expansion on Wednesday, April 27.

Decatur, Rockford unemployment far above statewide average. In addition to gathering and publishing monthly data on unemployment statewide, the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) works with stakeholders to develop estimates of joblessness in fourteen significant Illinois metro areas. Three of the regions cover Metro Chicago, one region covers the metropolitan counties east of St. Louis, and ten regions cover the larger cities of Downstate Illinois.

Data published by IDES for March 2022 indicates that, as in previous months, the unemployment rates are much higher in Metro Decatur (6.8%) and Metro Rockford (8.5%) than in the state as a whole (4.7%). Many of Illinois’ regions have partly recovered (at least in a jobs sense) from the pandemic of 2020-2021, and two regions are nearing “full employment” (Bloomington-Normal, 3.7%; Champaign-Urbana, 3.8%).

Bloomington and Champaign have significant campuses offering higher educational services, and Bloomington has a large Rivian factory that is tooling up to make electric-powered light trucks. Decatur and Rockford, by contrast, have an older industrial base that is much slower to snap back from hard times.

SPRING EVENTS
Lewis and Clark State Historic Site to celebrate anniversary of historic launch. One of the most historic expeditions that ever flew the American flag, the 1804-1807 Lewis and Clark Expedition pushed off from Camp Dubois in what was then the Illinois Territory. From their campsite on what was then the western edge of the United States, the men led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set off in small, shallow boats to make their way up the Missouri River by pole and oar. Their difficult journey would open President Thomas Jefferson’s new Louisiana Purchase to American maps. Jefferson had privately advised the explorers, if conditions were good, to keep pushing until they and their men reached the Pacific Ocean. When the Corps of Discovery pushed off into swirling spring waters on May 14, 1804, they could not have known whether or not they would get across the Rocky Mountains.

Volunteers and State interpreters will once again re-enact this key event in American history during the first full weekend in May. The celebration and observance will take place at the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site near Wood River, Illinois on May 7, 2022 and May 8, 2022. Volunteers, including reenactors dressed in military garb, will portray the day-to-day lives of those who participated in the event, including pioneers who were beginning to farm the new land around the Corps campsite. Interpreters will discuss the event from a diverse perspective, including the leading roles of Black and persons of color participants such as the African-American York, the Native American Sacagawea, and the M├ęti Toussaint Charbonneau (Sacagawea’s partner).