Landmark clean energy legislation passes Senate; Pritzker pledges to sign bill into law
A landmark clean energy bill cleared its final legislative hurdle Monday in the Senate with the promise of expanding the state’s “green” economy, slowing climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and closing coal-fired power plants in Springfield and southern Illinois by 2045.
“This bill is a historic culmination of a difficult but worthwhile negotiation process where we refused to accept anything but the best in terms of a clean energy future,” state Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Frankfort, co-sponsor of Senate Bill 2408, said before a vote of 37-17 sent the bill to Gov. JB Pritzker’s desk.
“Our work product,” Hastings said, “is one that is renewable, reliable and affordable for all Illinoisans.”
Senate approval came the same day that Chicago-based Exelon said it would need assurance of ratepayer subsidies to avoid the closure of the company’s Byron nuclear power plant near Rockford and the Dresden Generating Station in Grundy County in November.
Preserving those tens of thousands of jobs at the northern Illinois nuclear power plants was a major goal of the wide-ranging bill. However, reduced emissions at central and southern Illinois coal-fired power plants — eventually closing them by 2045 — would eliminate thousands of downstate jobs at the plants and among trade union members who maintain the facilities.
It's unclear how many of those jobs would be replaced by "renewable energy" jobs.
Senate Republicans, two of whom voted in favor of the bill in a chamber where Republicans are in the super-minority, said the legislation would institute the largest multi-year electric rate increase in Illinois history.
And though Hastings disagreed, Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, joined other Republicans when she said downstate Illinois “was forgotten and completely ignored in this bill.”
Hastings said central and southern Illinois workers and communities would benefit from displaced worker transition programs, scholarships for laid-off workers’ children, and incentives to build solar generation and energy storage facilities at soon-to-close coal plants.
The bill also would create hubs throughout the state for clean energy job training and future clean energy contractors to benefit minority and non-minority populations, advocates of the bill said.
Bill opponent Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said downstate coal-fired power plants would have to close prematurely, leaving downstate residents — if renewable energy technology doesn’t increase substantially — forced to pay higher rates for power produced by coal-burning class across the Illinois border.
“For those of us who live along the Indiana border, we know exactly what’s going to happen,” he said, raising his voice during the nearly two-hour debate. “All those electrons are going to get backfilled from Indiana and Kentucky with carbon. We’re going to trade carbon for carbon, except this time we get the privilege of paying more for it.”
Gov. JB Pritzker praised the bill, which was approved 83-33 Thursday by the House in the latest of multiple versions crafted over the past year following two years of discussions.
Pritzker pledged to quickly sign the bill into law. It would take effect immediately.
“SB 2408 puts the state on a path toward 100% clean energy and invests in training a diverse workforce for the jobs of the future,” the Democratic governor said in a statement.
“Illinois will become the best state in the nation to manufacture and drive an electric vehicle, and equity will be prioritized in every new program created," he said. "SB 2408 puts consumers and climate at the forefront, prioritizing meaningful ethics and transparency reforms, and institutes key ratepayer and residential customer protections.”
CWLP and Prairie State
The bill would require Springfield’s municipally owned City Water, Light & Power and Prairie State Energy Campus in Washington County to close one or more coal-fired units in mid-2038 unless carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by at least 45%.
CWLP and Prairie State took “neutral” stances on the latest version of the bill after it was changed to push the deadline for the 45% reduction from Jan. 1, 2035, to June 30, 2038.
CWLP received assurances that the bill would allow the Dallman Power Station to keep operating until 2045. The bill would count the December 2020 closure of coal-fired units Dallman 31 and 32, along with the planned 2023 closure of Dallman 33, toward the 45% carbon emissions reduction requirement in the bill.
Those voting against the bill included Sens. Steve McClure, R-Springfield, Jill Tracy, R-Quincy, and Sally Turner, R-Beason.
Sen. Doris Turner, D-Springfield, voted “present” and said she liked the bill’s provisions to protect the environment, create more clean-energy jobs for Black people and other minorities, provide a “fair and just transition” for coal industry workers and protect CWLP as much as possible.
But she remained concerned about the utility rate increases that her constituents would face because of the short-term costs associated with incentives to expand wind, solar and other “renewable” sources of power.
The bill sets a goal of 2040 for the state to get at least half of its electricity from renewable sources and 2050 for when 100% of the state’s power comes from “clean” sources that include nuclear plants. Renewable sources currently account for less than 10% of the state's electricity.
Hastings sidestepped directly answering McClure’s question about the legislation's overall cost to the public.
Hastings instead said the bill would boost average monthly electric bills by $3.50, or 3.9% more, for residential ratepayers statewide, about $35 additional, or 5.7% more, for commercial ratepayers, and $3,152 more, or a 7.7% increase, for an industrial ratepayer.
However, the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association estimated the increase for residential customers at 5%, 8-10% for commercial customers, and 8-5% for industrial customers.
“The fact is no one knows how much this piece of legislation will cost Illinois ratepayers,” said Sen. Donald DeWitte, R-St. Charles.
The bill would allow Commonwealth Edison to collect almost $700 million over the next five years from its ratepayers to support parent company Exelon’s Byron, Dresden, Braidwood and LaSalle County nuclear power plants.
But Hastings said much of those rate increases could be offset by funds from the federal infrastructure bill if ComEd requests money through that program for its nuclear plants.
A list of ethics provisions in the bill includes a requirement that the Illinois Commerce Commission investigate whether ComEd misappropriated any ratepayer funds in connection with the bribery-related conduct mentioned in its $200 million federal deferred prosecution agreement.
But Rose noted that renewable energy companies wouldn’t be covered by the new ethics requirements.
He said it’s unfair that downstate residents wouldn’t be eligible for the bill’s $4,000 rebates for the purchase of electric cars.
Hastings said residents of several Chicago-area counties are eligible for those funds because current state law created a fund with money from electric bills paid by residents of those counties.
He said he would be open to developing future legislation to expand the fund so downstate ratepayers could contribute to the fund and then be eligible for the electric car rebates.
Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park said the legislation needed to pass because “the threat to our planet is real. Our goal all along was to enact renewable and affordable energy policies that position Illinois to lead the nation in combating climate change and growing a green-energy economy. That is exactly what we are doing today.”
The 2045 closure of Prairie State, which could see one of its two large generating units close if the 45% carbon dioxide emission reduction isn’t reached by 2038, would disadvantage many municipalities and electric cooperatives that became part-owners of the campus, DeWitte said.
“Those municipalities have been ignored in the negotiations,” he said.
Tom Rader, the village president of Riverton, said the borrowing that Riverton is helping pay off for Prairie’s construction will be done in 2035. The village had hoped to reduce power rates for years after that and give village residents a break on their electric bills, he said.
With Prairie potentially reducing its output by half in 2038 and with the 2045 closure date, the potential for reduced rates and future rates in Riverton is uncertain, he said.
Other part-owners of Prairie include Prairie Power, Southern Illinois Power Cooperative, Wabash Valley Power Alliance and Illinois communities that include Batavia, Geneva, Rochelle, Bushnell, Carlyle, Chatham, Farmer City, Naperville, Oglesby, Peru, Princeton, Roodhouse, Waterloo and Winnetka.
Contact Dean Olsen: email@example.com; (217) 836-1068; twitter.com/DeanOlsenSJR.