Pritzker hopes Illinois General Assembly can approve a clean-energy bill within weeks

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After negotiations to hammer out a clean-energy bill for Illinois stalled this week, Gov. JB Pritzker said Wednesday he hopes to call the General Assembly back to Springfield within a month to approve legislation.

The legislation potentially would set closure dates as late as 24 years from now for coal-fired power plants in Springfield and southern Illinois, assist northern Illinois nuclear plants and promote alternative energy sources.

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“We have come a long way in assisting all parties in getting to ‘yes,’ and I continue to work to bring comprehensive, clean, equitable and ethical energy reform to the state of Illinois,” Pritzker said. “That, and nothing less, is what the people of this state deserve.”

Kaiden Trotter, 6, left, and Tise Ogunrinde, 7, join together to hold up a sign for the “Rally for a Fossil Free Future” at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Illinois lawmakers are returning to the Capitol Tuesday and Wednesday to consider an energy overhaul bill. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]

Officials from Springfield’s municipally owned City Water, Light and Power didn’t comment specifically on the proposed easing of the original 2035 closure dates for all Illinois coal-fired plants.

But CWLP said in a statement, “We are pleased that the legislature adjourned without adopting measures that would interfere with the progress CWLP has already been making for a cleaner energy supply for the city of Springfield.”

More:Clean-energy legislation needs to focus on more than environment, CWLP official says

The statement commended all six of the state senators and representatives with constituents served by CWLP.

“It was disappointing that it took so long for Springfield’s concerns to be heard beyond our local delegation, but we are grateful that at the 11th hour, they were noticed,” the statement said.

Statements from the Democratic governor and CWLP came after the Illinois Senate adjourned its spring session Tuesday without taking a vote. The House was on track to complete its spring session Wednesday without taking up the issue, either.

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The lack of consensus after more than a year of work by Pritzker, his staff and lawmakers, and after the legislature’s two-week break to work out final details of an energy bill, resulted in disappointment among Democrats and Republicans.

“We came to Springfield today in the hopes of passing a landmark, nation-leading climate bill,” said Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park. “We came up a little short today, but we will get it done.”

Harmon said he believes differences between labor unions and environmental activists can be resolved.

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Harmon said the holdup in the Senate’s Democratic caucus, which represents a super-majority in the 59-member chamber, centered on two issues:

* How the legislation would deal with requiring “prevailing wage” on many wind and solar projects and make sure Black and Latino workers get their fair share of those jobs; and

* “Interim decarbonization targets” for natural gas-fired electric generation plants before they all would be required to close by 2045.

The disagreements involve “two critical constituencies” for Democrats — environmental activists and organized labor, Harmon said. 

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“All of the stakeholders are preparing for decarbonization, with coal going offline in 2035 and gas going offline in 2045 unless there is some significant technological change that allows them to operate without polluting,” Harmon said.

“Those are important targets, and we stand willing to support those, but the predictability issue is one that’s very real,” he said.

“We want to make sure that Illinoisans are working at good-paying jobs, both the folks who are in the industry today and the folks who are going to take those clean-energy jobs going forward, and that we just don’t create a situation where we end up shutting down Illinois plants and end up importing dirty energy from other states,” Harmon said.

He said the latest draft of the energy bill would have started requiring the closure of some gas-fired power plants “in the next few years. … There are significant investments and significant jobs associated with those plants. People could be out of a job on Monday if we passed that bill today.”

Both environmentalists and labor officials have “moved considerably toward the middle, and both sides are operating in good faith,” Harmon said.

“Labor is being asked to support the closure of plants and the elimination of jobs,” he said. “That might be the toughest vote in Springfield. Tougher than voting to raise someone’s taxes is voting to say, ‘Next month or next year you don’t have a job.’ These are very real concerns for very real people.”

An aide to Pritzker said Tuesday the governor is proposing a new provision in the legislation that would give coal-fired plants at CWLP and southern Illinois’ Washington County the ability to remain open until 2045 if they remove most of the carbon dioxide from their emissions by the end of 2034.

Deputy Gov. Christian Mitchell said in a statement that a previous version of the bill would have forced closure of all Illinois coal-fired plants by 2035. The 2035 date was vigorously opposed by CWLP and by the municipally owned Prairie State Energy Campus.

CWLP has debt for a $515 million coal-fired unit built in 2009 that won’t be paid off until after 2040, and some bonds sold to finance Prairie State’s $5 billion construction from 2007-12 will require debt payments beyond 2041 in some cases.

Mitchell said Pritzker was attempting to satisfy the concerns of the constituents of more than 50 Democratic and Republican state lawmakers who sent him a letter over the past weekend.

The letter said CWLP and Prairie State, both not-for-profit entities, combined employ more than 1,100 workers and support an additional 1,000 skilled union trades workers.

Pritzker’s proposed compromise would allow CWLP and Prairie Energy to keep operating their coal-fired units until 2045 if they adopted technologies that remove 90% of carbon emissions by late 2034.

“We’ve come a long way,” Mitchell said. “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.”

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker answers questions from the media after he praised the budget passed by the lawmakers during a press conference in his office at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., Tuesday, June 1, 2021. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]

Harmon said it’s unknown whether carbon-capture technology will progress in the next 14 years to allow for a 90% reduction in pollutants. But Pritzker sounded more confident.

“There’s the opportunity for there to be significant carbon capture,” the governor said. “And if that goal is met — and the industry has said it could meet that goal — that will then allow beyond 2035 the operation of those coal plants for another 10 years, so we’re talking about 24 years from now.”

Prairie State officials didn’t respond to a request for comment on the energy bill debate.

Through proposed rate increases in the northern Illinois areas served by Commonwealth Edison, Mitchell said the bill being crafted would provide $694 million in financial support for the Byron, Dresden, Braidwood and LaSalle nuclear power plants and preserve 2,000 direct jobs at the plants and thousands of indirect jobs. 

The bill also would “create thousands of good jobs for union workers by standing up a transparent and reasonable ratemaking system for ComEd and Ameren,” Mitchell said.

Pritzker said his administration’s goal “is to create meaningful climate-change policy that makes Illinois a leader in protecting our people, the environment and the clean-energy industry that we can grow. I will not sign a bill that does not match the gravity of this moment.”

He added, “We can decarbonize while creating and maintaining good-paying union jobs.”

The bill as proposed would double the state’s investment in renewable energy and provide indexed renewable energy credits, costing residential ratepayers about $1.22 per month.

The legislation would expand weatherization efforts for low-income homeowners, costing residential ratepayers about 86 cents per month.

CWLP officials has complained that a mandate to close all coal-fired plants by 2035 would require Dallman 4, a 207-megawatt generating unit fueled with high-sulphur coal from the Viper Mine in Williamsville, to close five years before bonds used to finance its construction are paid off.

The utility shut down the Dallman 31 and 32 units in 2020 and plans to shut down Dallman 33, one of CWLP’s two remaining coal-fired units, sometime in 2023.

CWLP recently began working with the University of Illinois to test carbon-dioxide capture technology on Dallman 4, a project that will begin removing a portion of the carbon from emissions between 2023 and 2026.

Even though Prairie State operates its $5 billion, 1,600 megawatt coal-fired plant east of St. Louis, municipalities and electric cooperatives throughout the state have an ownership stake in the plant and depend on it for power.

Ratepayers, cooperatives and municipalities involved include those from Chatham, Riverton, Princeton, Peru, Batavia, Rochelle, Oglesby and the counties of Sangamon, Menard, Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford, Cass, Christian, Knox, Logan, Macon, Mason, Macoupin, McLean, Morgan, Montgomery and Schuyler.

Many lawmakers representing CWLP and Prairie State have advocated that the two electric providers be exempt from any specific closure dates for coal-fired plants.

Aaron Gurnsey, business agency for Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 137 in Springfield, said he appreciated Pritzker proposing a way for coal plants to operate beyond 2035 but would rather not see any bill mandate a closure date.

Guernsey, president of the Central Illinois Building & Construction Trades Council, said Harmon, in particular, “is working very hard for working people right now.”

Contact Dean Olsen: dolsen@gannett.com; (217) 836-1068; twitter.com/DeanOlsenSJR.

via The State Journal-Register

June 16, 2021 at 05:26PM

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