Energy bill deal elusive as Senate heads home empty-handed

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Harmon finally adjourned the Senate with the prediction that a bill ultimately would pass. Environmental advocates and union representatives would meet "as soon as tonight" to continue to try to hash out differences, he said following adjournment.

“We are this close to reaching that agreement, and I am confident that we will get that done,” he said. “There are still some points of contention between two critical constituencies, between labor and the environmental activists. I believe they’re going to be continuing to meet as early as this evening to try to work out those differences and the Senate stands ready, willing and able to return as soon as an agreement is reached.

No sooner had the fate of the Prairie State coal plant in far southern Illinois been settled when other festering disputes took center stage. Relatively new, Prairie State is financed by municipally owned utilities, including several in the western suburbs. Pritzker had been adamant that Prairie State, along with another that serves Springfield’s utility, close no later than 2035. This morning, the Pritzker team unveiled a compromise in which they’d allow the two coal plants to operate until 2045 if they installed technology to capture and bury at least 90 percent of the carbon the plants emit no later than 2034.

But unions representing workers at the plants objected, along with unions representing workers at natural gas-fired plants that the bill would require be shuttered by 2045.

Once Prairie State’s problem was settled, unions and environmental advocates battled over provisions that would gradually reduce fossil fuel production in the state and force the closure of some coal and gas plants well before the 2035 and 2045 deadlines to stop burning the two fuels. Unions argue that some gas plants, in particular, would be forced out of service prematurely.

Negotiating a compromise on that "ramp" to reduce fossil fuel burning is what’s needed now. Observers are hopeful the Senate will be back within weeks. "We’ll be back this summer, I predict," Harmon said.

Hanging in the balance are two nuclear plants Chicago-based Exelon said it will close this coming fall without financial assistance from ratepayers. The deal to subsidize the nukes was reached on May 31, and in the meantime, Exelon has been quiet as the coal issue persisted. It’s unclear what Exelon’s true deadline is for closing the plants.

In testimony Deputy Gov. Christian Mitchell prepared today, but never ended up delivering for the Senate Energy & Environment Committee, he said: “We’ve come a long way. We have moved substantially. The other side has not moved much. Everything we were told was necessary for an agreement—including a carbon capture exemption that gives both the governor and environmentalists heartburn—is now present. And at some point a progressive climate bill is no longer a climate bill, and going further than this is the tipping point.”

Going “further than this” is something Pritzker apparently will need to do, however, if he’s to secure what became his highest legislative priority in this session.

"Today, the governor’s office presented a comprehensive energy package that makes substantial progress on climate change and preserves union jobs," a Pritzker spokeswoman said in an email. "The Senate chose not to take up that bill today."

Don’t bet against a deal. Too many interests have too much at stake, including the unions that Mitchell noted were in line to secure many more jobs in newer industries than the coal-fired and nuclear power ones they’re trying to save now if the bill becomes law.

But, so far, no one that the enviros or the unions will listen to has been able to tell either to stand down.

via Crain’s Chicago Business

June 15, 2021 at 10:42PM

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