Organized labor pushes Exelon nuclear plant bailout in new clean energy bill

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With Commonwealth Edison and parent Exelon largely on the sidelines as the state grapples with its energy future, organized labor is looking to step into the breach.

A coalition of unions representing workers engaged in operating, maintaining and building power plants is supporting legislation introduced today in the state House and Senate that would bail out financially ailing nuclear plants that otherwise might close, as well as sharply increase ratepayer-financed money for new wind and solar development.

The coalition, known as Climate Jobs Illinois, is pushing the Climate Union Jobs Act, which essentially seeks to preserve thousands of union jobs at plants at risk of closing while creating new ones in the growing green-energy sector. The bill would require developers of renewable projects to use union labor if they’re getting financial support from the state.

The money, like the $2.4 billion bailout Exelon obtained from Springfield in 2016 in order to keep open two nukes, would come mainly from new surcharges on the electric bills of Illinoisans. Such bill adders—which fund Exelon’s bailout, renewable projects and energy-efficiency programs run by utilities like ComEd—currently add up to more than $6 per month on the average household bill in the state.

The labor-backed legislation would double the budget for new renewable projects, likely adding another couple bucks to customers’ bills. Supporters of the measure said at a press conference today they were unsure how much another nuclear bailout would cost. They expressed some hope it might be cheaper than the $235 million per year that Exelon got the last time.

But the measure would support four nukes rather than just the two that already get extra cash. So even if the benefit were less per plant, it’s conceivable at least another $2 monthly could be added to the bevy of surcharges. That would bring such charges benefiting specific power facilities and environmental programs to more than $10 monthly on average.

“If we’re going to reach our clean energy goals in our state, it’s going to require investment,” said Pat Devaney, Illinois AFL-CIO secretary treasurer. He and others said the legislation would provide $150 million for bill-paying assistance to low-income households.

Significantly, given that ComEd employs union workers as well, the coalition’s bill would end formula rate-setting, the annual change in utility delivery rates that’s at the center of ComEd’s admissions of bribery and influence peddling to win past triumphs in Springfield. Some observers were surprised at that, but it appeared to a recognition of the reality that ComEd’s legendary past clout in the state capital is now an albatross.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has called for passage in the spring session of comprehensive energy legislation that would put the state’s power-generation industry on course to be carbon-free within the next 20 to 30 years. There are several competing proposals with many co-sponsors including the Clean Energy Jobs Act supported by environmental groups and the Citizens Utility Board (CUB), and the Path to 100 Act, backed by the renewable power industry.

Exelon has said it will close two nukes—the Byron and Dresden plants—in the fall without state financial assistance.

There’s been little progress to date in melding the different approaches, and the Legislature will have roughly six weeks to complete the task once they return from their spring recess.

“It’s good to see labor engage on the broader question of how we reach our clean energy goals,” David Kolata, CUB executive director, said in an interview.

He said he expects to see more consumer protections in whatever emerges. “The (labor) bill is heavy on the investment side of the equation,” he said.

Parties on all sides agree that the framework for an eventual deal isn’t in place now. It will be a difficult challenge to come together on something comprehensive that also can be marketed as not another Exelon bailout. Pritzker, however, has said he wants to keep existing nukes open.

via Crain’s Chicago Business https://ift.tt/1mywUHL

March 29, 2021 at 03:53PM

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