All Systems Go: Engineering Sustainable Utility Solutions - Metropolitan Planning Council

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All Systems Go: Engineering Sustainable Utility Solutions

J. Tyler Anthony of ComEd, William Morrow of People's Gas, and Karla Olson Teasley of Illinois American Water take questions from the audience.

The complete audio recording of this event is available for listening.

Last week MPC hosted the third event in its infrastructure roundtable series, All Systems Go: Engineering Sustainable Utility Solutions, generously sponsored by ComEd and Peoples Gas. The event featured a top-notch panel: J. Tyler Anthony, Senior Vice President of Distribution Operations for ComEd, William Morrow, Vice President of Gas Engineering for Integrys Energy Group, Inc. (People's Gas), and MPC Resource Board member Karla Olson Teasley, President of Illinois American Water. Given the level of expertise on the panel, I was not surprised that the presentations were informative and interesting. What was unexpected was the candid passion with which each of them presented their cases. It was an honor for me to welcome and introduce this trio!

J. Tyler Anthony began by commending MPC for organizing this roundtable on such a “pertinent topic.” This fall the Illinois General Assembly overrode Gov. Quinn’s veto of ComEd’s Smart Grid bill. By harnessing today’s technology, ComEd pledges to improve both power quality and reliability. Illinois, like countless other states, faces aged infrastructure that is beyond its last legs. Through measures such as “storm hardening” to decrease outages, and more durable replacement pipes, ComEd is working to minimize the occurrence and duration of outages.

Bill Morrow also focused on aged infrastructure, pointing out that poor infrastructure increases maintenance costs. Thanks to Peoples Gas’ accelerated replacement program which began implementation in Jan. 2010, they have been able to replace one mile of pipe in the city of Chicago everyday! Even with this recent surge of upgrades, their system still has over 200 miles of 100+ year-old pipes. A project of this magnitude requires extensive planning and coordination. Morrow stressed the need for utilities to work together because, if for no other reason, you would only need to dig up the same spot once. He applauded the Emanuel administration for asking all the region’s utilities for their five-, ten-, and twenty-year master plans to facilitate such cooperation. If done correctly, such a holistic approach would result in lower costs and better service for customers.

Karla Olson Teasley switched gears to discuss water, which has been the topic of much conversation since Mayor Emanuel revealed his plan to raise water rates in the City of Chicago and fees charged to the suburbs it serves. While Chicagoans may be balking at the higher price tag, she said this would only begin to scratch the surface of Illinois’ water infrastructure needs. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated several years ago that infrastructure needs for water nationally were $335 B and for Illinois were $15 B. That estimate has increased by 60% since then. MPC can play a key role here by educating consumers about why government can no longer afford to subsidize water use and hope we can create an up-to-date, efficient water system. Illinois American Water has partnered with MPC and Openlands both on our publication Before the Wells Run Dry, and on What Our Water’s Worth, a multimedia campaign about the costs that come with providing safe drinking water, managing stormwater, and treating wastewater.

We need to change how we think about our utilities. Most of us use water, gas, and electricity without thinking about the costs. Sure, we may try to hold off as long as possible to crank up that air conditioning, or we turn off the faucet while we brush our teeth, but do we really consider the cost of these services? We certainly notice when there are problems – main breaks, blackouts, gas leaks – but otherwise it’s often out of sight and out of mind. Sound utilities drive the regional economy and natural resource protection is critical to environmental sustainability, but those come with costs. The 75 people in attendance at All Systems Go left with a sharp reminder of the need to pay those costs – to invest in order to ensure the balanced growth of the region.

Join the Metropolitan Planning Council on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011, for Better Commutes, Less Congestion: Employers Unlock the Region’s Gridlock, a roundtable discussion on how Commute Options are making a difference in solving the Chicago area’s commute challenges. Panelists will include participating employers describing their experiences with the pilot, and policymakers speaking about the regional benefits of the Commute Options program.

Happy Thanksgiving!


  1. 1. mathanas from on December 13, 2011

    I concur that we need to change how we think about our utilities. The way we use them should be directly proportional to the amount we have. We mostly utilize our resources without considering the fate of our tomorrow, only to come and regret later.

    Thanks for the advice.

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