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Correction: This story has been revised to reflect that GlidePath developed but does not own battery storage facilities in Illinois. The company does not currently own any installations in Illinois. 

A public interest group and a renewable energy developer filed a lawsuit Monday charging that the Illinois Commerce Commission’s process to study the state’s future energy system violated the state’s Open Meetings Act.

Illinois PIRG Education Fund and the energy company GlidePath say they have been unfairly denied participation in the NextGrid working groups, convened by the commission to study different aspects of energy policy and technology related to the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act.

The lawsuit says that utilities ComEd and Ameren could have undue influence on the months-long process because they helped choose and are paying for its third-party facilitators, two University of Illinois professors who are charged with working with the commission to write a final report.

“It’s the regulator having the regulated pay for the process that will benefit the regulated – you have to look at this entire affair through this prism,” GlidePath spokesman Dave Lundy said.

Abe Scarr, director of Illinois PIRG, said he applied through the commission’s website to be included in two working groups and never received an invitation or response.

Dan Foley, founder and CEO of GlidePath, said his company might not be able to offer the kinds of “products and services that Illinois customers want” if energy policy doesn’t make it financially viable. His company developed battery storage  installations in Illinois and wind farms in other states, and he said he hopes to develop solar and microgrids in Illinois.

GlidePath is part of a working group focused on electricity markets, but it was not invited to participate in four other working groups to which Foley applied, with focuses including ratemaking, regulatory and metering.

“Given the fact this NextGrid process could set the course for Illinois for the next 20 to 30 years, it’s important we make sure people bringing third-party capital and putting it at risk to develop products customers want to have a say,” said Foley. “Our fear is of being cut out of this process as it’s being framed more from a traditional regulated utility perspective.”

Commission spokesperson Victoria Crawford sent a statement in response to questions about the lawsuit, saying: “It is important to note that the ICC has gone out of its way to ensure an open and transparent process. NextGrid is a collaborative study that relies on the input of technical experts, stakeholders and the general public, and the ICC is actively soliciting involvement in the process through e-blast, press releases and public comment sessions. Meeting agendas, summaries and presentations and information about the various working groups are all available for public review and comment through the NextGrid website. Interested parties are and have been encouraged to submit written input.”

She noted that Foley is a member of one working group and “participated in a meeting yesterday as the complaint was being filed.” And she pointed to a letter from commission chairman Brien Sheahan, which notes that working group participation was capped “to control the number of participants and encourage frank, open dialogue.”

The seven working groups include various stakeholders including the state Attorney General’s office, companies like Sunrun and Tesla, and environmental and consumer groups like the Environmental Law &  Policy Center, Sierra Club Illinois, and the Citizens Utility Board. The working groups have met multiple times and produced reports that have been discussed at public meetings where anyone can attend and make comments. The most recent meeting was on June 14.

The lawsuit contends that the working group meetings should be subject to the state’s Open Meetings Act, which says meetings of public bodies, with some exceptions, should be open to the public, and advance notice about them must be given.

“Public processes should be public,” said Scarr. “The Open Meetings Act exists for a reason – because we know that in a closed process it’s easier for powerful special interests to get their way. In Illinois, I can think of no greater special interest in recent years or decades than Commonwealth Edison.”

The lawsuit asks that all the previous working group meetings be considered null and void and that future meetings be open to the public and advertised.

The NextGrid study, slated to be released next year, is not binding. The process has been praised by smart grid and energy reform groups nationwide, helping Illinois rank second nationwide in last year’s Grid Modernization Index produced by the Gridwise Alliance of grid operators and other stakeholders.

Kari Lydersen

Kari has written for Midwest Energy News since January 2011. She is an author and journalist who worked for the Washington Post's Midwest bureau from 1997 through 2009. Her work has also appeared in the New York Times, Chicago News Cooperative, Chicago Reader and other publications. Kari covers Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana as well as environmental justice topics.