Springfield Dems have to risk upsetting allies to pass energy bill

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With Exelon on course next month to shutter the first of two nuclear plants slated for early closure this year, time is short. Also at risk is hundreds of millions already set aside for new solar-power development in Illinois that will be returned to ratepayers in the fall if legislation isn’t passed to free up the funding.
 
Pritzker, who in an Aug. 2 letter took the side of environmentalists in their bitter remaining battles with organized labor, says policymakers now must make calls that one or both interests may well oppose.
 
“This is not something that’s left to interest groups to decide,” Pritzker told reporters Aug. 4 in a thinly veiled swipe at Harmon’s approach. “This is a decision that gets made by the Legislature and the governor. And here we are.”
 
Senators are working on a new compromise proposal aimed at resolving the remaining issues. There’s no timetable yet for release of that plan.
 
“We’re assessing the situation but recognize that legislative intervention is necessary now that the parties have reached an impasse,” Harmon spokesman John Patterson says in an email.
 
In an Aug. 2 statement, Harmon said, “Our goal is to protect jobs and promote a clean-energy future, because we can and should do both.”
 
At the start of this process last spring, when Pritzker called on lawmakers to pass an ambitious climate-change bill aimed at the power sector, the foreseeable roadblocks centered around Exelon’s demand for another round of ratepayer bailouts for its financially pressured nukes, as well as how to handle future rate-setting for Exelon-owned Commonwealth Edison. ComEd’s admissions in federal court to a decadelong bribery scheme to win past legislative victories in Springfield created a delicate environment in which the utility had to be seen as “being punished” for its wrongdoing while simultaneously being called upon to enable more green power.
 
Surprisingly, Exelon and ComEd’s issues proved relatively easy to solve. Last spring, few would have predicted that fossil fuel interests, whose clout in Illinois had dissipated over the years, would display the muscle to scuttle the initiative. But, with the help of unions representing workers at those plants and contractors serving them, that’s what’s happened.
 
Complicating matters is dissension within the organized-labor camp. Well over 1,000 unionized nuke workers’ jobs are now imperiled because of the demands of unions representing other interests that Exelon has fought for years.
 
“I am still hopeful that the working groups and legislators can work something out to save the plants real soon,” said Terry McGoldrick, president of Local 15 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents Exelon’s nuke workers, as well as ComEd’s people in the field. “As we stand today the plants will close without legislation. A lot of great jobs will be lost and the communities around these plants will suffer because of these closings.”
 
Another IBEW local, which has been advocating for the Prairie State coal-fired plant in southern Illinois, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
 
The future of Prairie State, one of the top 10 emitters of carbon among coal plants in the U.S., remains a sticking point in moving the bill. Pritzker negotiated a deal with the plant allowing it to stay open until 2045 if it installed technology to capture and store 90 percent of its carbon emissions. Otherwise, it would have to close by 2035.
 
Ironically, given fierce union advocacy for Prairie State, the 600-plus workers at the plant itself aren’t even unionized. Another 1,000 contract workers, who sporadically provide services to the facility, are union members, a Prairie State spokeswoman says.
 
Advocates want Prairie State to stay open past 2045 if it’s able reduce carbon emissions by 90 percent. Pritzker, backed by environmental advocates, wants to be able to say the bill will eliminate carbon emissions from Illinois’ power industry by a certain date.
 
Enough Democratic senators are backing Prairie State that moving a bill over the coal plant’s backers’ opposition risks defeat.
 
Also still a sticking point is green groups’ insistence on gradual reductions in carbon emissions from gas-fired plants in the lead-up to Pritzker’s “decarbonization” date of 2045.
 
In past large-scale energy debates in Springfield, former House Speaker Michael Madigan played traffic cop, quietly letting allies and friends know how much of their requests would be granted and demanding support—or at least neutrality—for an overall package.
 
No one is playing that role now—except perhaps Exelon. CEO Chris Crane, speaking to analysts on Aug. 4, was asked whether it was feasible for Exelon to wait a month or two to close its Byron nuclear plant, now slated to shutter next month.
 
The answer? Yes, but the logistics would be “challenging.” Exelon doesn’t seem to think giving Springfield more time will change the ultimate outcome.
 
“We don’t want to close these plants, but we cannot make decisions based off of hope of legislation being passed in the future,” he said. “We’ve been doing that since 2016 while significant losses have been incurred.”

via Crain’s Chicago Business

August 6, 2021 at 06:39AM

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