Illinois clean energy bill is down to the wire. Get it across finish line

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Dead and dying fish lie in a small pool of water cut off from the main body as water levels continue to recede at the Lake Oroville reservoir during the California drought emergency in Oroville, California last month.
Dead and dying fish lie in a small pool of water cut off from the main body as water levels continue to recede at the Lake Oroville reservoir during the California drought emergency in Oroville, California last month. | Patrick T. Fallon/Getty Images

The Legislature has blown one chance after another over the last nearly three years to send a bill to the governor that would protect union jobs, provide equity in new green jobs, steer the state toward renewable energy and hold utilities to stricter ethical standards.

On Tuesday, the Illinois Senate has a chance to push a compromise clean energy bill over the finish line. It should get the job done for the planet’s sake.

The Legislature has blown one chance after another over the last nearly three years to send a bill to the governor that would protect union jobs, provide equity in new green jobs, steer the state toward renewable energy and hold utilities to stricter ethical standards.

If Illinois fumbles this last-moment chance in this legislative session, Exelon says it will start the process of closing down two Illinois nuclear power plants. That would complicate the state’s ability to transition to a carbon-free power sector. The plants are needed to provide zero-carbon energy until the state can ramp up renewable energy sources.

As with much legislation, the clean energy bill has changed during lengthy negotiations. At this point, the various interests should look at what they – and the planet – would get.

Extinction Rebellion environmental activists attach a banner calling on G7 leaders to act on climate change on the beach in St Ives, Cornwall during the G7 summit on Sunday.
Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images
Extinction Rebellion environmental activists attach a banner calling on G7 leaders to act on climate change on the beach in St Ives, Cornwall during the G7 summit on Sunday.

Organized labor would save about 1,000 good-paying union jobs at Exelon nuclear plants. An estimated 95% of all green energy projects in the state would pay prevailing wages, a labor priority.

For ratepayers, the formula rates that give utilities automatic rate increases will end. Also, the proposal by the Illinois Clean Energy Jobs Coalition to pull Illinois out of so-called capacity market rules that favored fossil fuels has led to changes that could save ComEd customers $1.2 billion a year starting a year from now, depending on energy auction results. That could offset higher costs an additional $4 an average ratepayer would see on monthly bills to pay for the energy legislation. Higher energy fees are a sore point for large power users, such as businesses and manufacturing.

For environmentalists, the bill as of Monday would phase out coal-burning plants by 2035 and require a transition to a carbon-free energy sector by 2045. Such firm dates are needed to make this a strong climate bill. Extending the state’s energy efficiency program by 20 years would save customers $9 billion.

For those who don’t like the idea of Exelon subsidies to keep nuclear plants open, the utility will get only an estimated $700 million over five years instead of the $6 billion over 10 years negotiators say it wanted.

For those in economically challenged communities, it will creating thousands of equitable jobs and help residents build wealth.

On Sunday, President Joe Biden and the world leaders at the G-7 summit failed to set a date for phasing out coal-burning power plants. As a result, states, including Illinois, need to fill the breach. Just look at the drought-stricken American West, where a week of scorching triple-digit temperatures — breaking records in many places — is forecast. Or look at coastlines eroded by higher oceans. Or at the rapid disappearance of many species as habitat changes.

If the Senate approves the bill, it will go to the House on Wednesday. As of Monday, the vote looked tight in the Legislature. Lawmakers should come together and enact this bill.

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June 14, 2021 at 06:50PM

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