House passes energy bill with support of Tarver and Buckner

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SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House approved an energy regulation and decarbonization bill on Sept. 9, a major step forward for a wide-ranging omnibus bill that had eluded lawmakers throughout the legislative session and the governor’s three years in office.

The measure that aims to bring Illinois’s energy generation sector to 100% carbon-free by 2050 and 50% renewable by 2040 will still need approval from the Senate, which planned to caucus Friday to discuss the measure, Senate Bill 2408, before a Monday return.

It passed the House 83-33, with the support of local Reps. Curtis J. Tarver II (D-25th) and Kam Buckner (D-26th). Pritzker quickly issued a news release saying he would sign it.

“This is what legislating is supposed to look like,” Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D-7th) said in closing floor debate. “It’s about good faith negotiating. It’s about advocating for the interests in our districts back home. And it’s about compromise in order to arrive at a product that benefits people in your districts, and ours.”

Environmental groups extolled the decarbonization language, which aims to take coal, gas and other carbon-emitting power plants off the grid between 2030 and 2045, depending on the energy source and ownership structure.

Union groups praised the bill’s language requiring that all major renewable construction projects must have project labor agreements in place to hire union labor, while non-residential projects, with few exceptions, would be required to pay a prevailing wage.

“Today in Springfield, we came together to do what we were elected to do; create a path toward a brighter future for Illinois. The passing of this energy package will promote the use of new innovations to get us to zero carbon emission by 2045 and help combat climate change,” Buckner said in a statement. “These key reforms will preserve the environment, create the jobs of the future, and promote fair equitable resourcing for the people and communities across Illinois.” 

He congratulated his colleague, South Side Rep. Marcus Evans (D-33rd) for introducing the final compromise, Senate Bill 2408

“His efforts to ensure that even as we balanced a wide range of priorities, we remained focused on the task at hand,” Buckner said. “Rep. Evans, like myself, has worked tirelessly to create a truly equitable Illinois where your quality of life is not determined by your zip code and this plan to make us carbon free will preserve life for those most impacted by pollution.”

Tarver did not respond to request for comment.

Republicans, meanwhile, warned of losses of downstate jobs, substantial consumer bill increases and potential grid reliability issues as fossil fuel plants are forced offline, although it passed on a bipartisan roll call.

Decarbonization, renewables

Environmental and labor groups were in opposition on the issue of municipal coal-fired power plants coming into the special House session. Two plants that were at issue include Springfield’s City, Water, Light and Power, and a plant funded by several municipalities in Illinois that is located in Marissa in the Metro East Area, called the Prairie State Energy Campus.

The final language requires the plants to be carbon-free by 2045, either by going offline or installing sequestration technology. By 2035, municipal plants must cut emissions by 45%. If a plant doesn’t meet that goal by the end of 2035, the power plant will have until June 30, 2038 to either retire a portion of carbon-emitting units or meet the decarbonization goal some other way.

The bill also provides more than $600 million over five years to three nuclear plants owned by Exelon Corporation — in Byron, Dresden and Braidwood. The company has stated it will not refuel the Byron plant after Monday, and it would begin decommissioning at that time, unless the General Assembly passed legislation to ensure its financial viability.

All told, negotiators believe the new bill is expected to raise residential electric bills by about 3-4%, commercial bills by about 5-6%, and industrial bills by about 7-8%, although the rollout for the various programs would be staggered over time and increases would vary by year.

The Sun-Times reports that Evans said his bill will cost ratepayers about $3 a month, while an AARP study said the cost would be closer to $15 a month.

The ratepayer money will fund equity programs for the clean energy workforce and new investment in renewable energy, among other initiatives.

It would also incentivize the transition of coal plants to solar facilities or battery storage sites, and it permits downstate utility Ameren to establish two utility-scale solar plants.

The charge on a customer bill for renewables would increase over time from about 2-4%, a $360 million annual increase to fund projects such as wind and solar.

That investment is an effort to increase the portion of the state’s energy contributed by renewables, which is currently between 7% and 8%. Nuclear made up about 58% of the state’s electricity generation in 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Equity, ethics, EVs

Included in the rate hike is $180 million in annual funding for the newly-created Energy Transition Assistance Fund, which funds various workforce initiatives.

The bill directs the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to create the Clean Jobs Workforce Network program, which establishes 13 hubs in different communities across the state that rely on community-based organizations to provide job training and a career pipeline for equity-focused populations.

Other programs include a pre-apprenticeship program to prepare individuals for the renewable energy infrastructure workforce; and a contractor incubator to aid small clean energy businesses.

It also establishes a “Climate Bank” within the Illinois Finance Authority to help fund renewable projects, as well as a Jobs and Justice Fund, run by a nonprofit entity, aimed at ensuring “the benefits of the clean energy economy are equitably distributed.”  Another program aims to train individuals recently released from incarceration for careers in the renewable energy field.

Lawmakers also noted the bill tightens utility ethics laws by ending formulaic rate increases, strengthening economic disclosure requirements to include spouses employed by utilities, and creating Public Utility Ethics and Compliance Monitor to ensure utilities comply with existing and new laws.

It will also require the Illinois Commerce Commission to investigate whether ComEd misused ratepayer funds in connection to an ongoing federal investigation of the company’s Springfield influence, and if it is found that they did, the money must be returned to ratepayers.

The bill also sets a goal of putting 1 million electric vehicles on Illinois roads by 2030, aiming to do so through incentives, such as offering rebates on the installation of charging infrastructure in certain communities, provided prevailing wage is paid on the construction labor.

It also creates a Displaced Energy Worker Bill of Rights, requiring the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to give advance notice of power plant or coal mine closures and to notify workers of available assistance programs.

Herald staff contributed from Chicago. Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

via Hyde Park Herald

September 11, 2021 at 10:51PM

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