Stakeholders line up behind energy bill

The sprawling measure is aimed at eliminating carbon-emitting sources from the power-generation industry in Illinois by 2045. To achieve that, far more ratepayer funds will be invested in new solar and wind projects, as well as a ratepayer-funded bailout of Exelon’s Illinois nuclear plants. The nukes are the state’s largest existing source of carbon-free electricity, and financial pressures had led Exelon to announce the closure of two of the six in the state, with the Byron plant slated for closure next week.

Privately owned coal-fired plants will be required to shutter no later than 2030—a process that already is well under way and likely will occur before then with or without legislation. Two coal-fired facilities serving municipalities throughout the state will have to shut down by 2045 and will need to reduce carbon emissions by 45% 10 years before that.

Likewise, all natural gas-fired plants will have to close by 2045, with phase-downs of gas-fired power every five years until then.

In a release, Climate Jobs Illinois, the group representing union workers in the state’s energy industry, applauded the bill for safeguarding “thousands of union workers at the state’s nuclear plants that currently generate the bulk of Illinois’ zero-emissions energy,” as well as creating new jobs and expanding apprenticeships. 

Jen Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, which is representing environmental groups across the state, also backed the bill, saying it “will tackle the climate crisis at the scale science demands, and that aligns with our values of equity and accountability,” which includes a timeline for decarbonization and pollution reductions “while also creating good-paying jobs and wealth for working families in Illinois’ Black and Brown communities most impacted.”

Gov. JB Pritzker heralded the “compromise amendment that puts consumers and climate first, while protecting and creating jobs,” and said he looked forward to signing the “historic agreement” when it reached his desk. 

But those three groups are “a pretty rock solid coalition,” Walling told Crain’s. “People understand the urgency and the cost implications to Illinois if we don’t do this today.” 

The bill ends the formularized rate-setting process that has led to substantial increases in delivery rates for Commonwealth Edison and downstate utility Ameren Illinois. ComEd admitted last year to a bribery scheme aimed at winning the favor of former House Speaker Michael Madigan, who led the enactment of the formula-rate law in 2011 over the veto of then-Gov. Pat Quinn.

In place of the formula process, however, is a new system in which rates will be set over five-year periods. The measure will require substantial new investments by ComEd, so it’s more likely than not that delivery rates will continue to climb. The measure does restore more authority, however, to the Illinois Commerce Commission to control those increases, and the Pritzker administration has promised to beef up staffing at the agency, which has been hollowed out over the past two decades.

There are new utility-related ethics requirements, particularly a new mandate that politicians disclose when family members are hired by utilities.

All of the above, plus new ratepayer-funded investments in promoting more economic equity, will mean higher electric bills. Illinois AARP estimated today that at the end of a decade, the bill’s mandates will mean the average household electric bill will rise by $15. Over the next three years, depending on what happens with ComEd’s delivery rates, Chicago-area households and businesses easily could see 9% increases or more, according to a Crain’s analysis.

via Crain’s Chicago Business

September 9, 2021 at 10:59AM

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