Monday, February 18, 2019

Illinois Lawmakers Clear Nuke Subsidy

By Rory D. Sweeney and Rich Heidorn Jr.

Illinois legislators on Thursday approved a bill to keep Exelon’s Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear plants operating for another decade.

The “Future Energy Jobs Bill” was approved by the state Senate by a 32-18 vote, an hour after clearing the House 63-38 on the last day of the legislature’s session for the year (SB 2814). The product of two years of negotiations, it was sent to be signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, who issued a statement in support.

clinton, exelon, illinois, nuclear power

Exelon’s Clinton Nuclear Plant | Exelon

The bill “shows that when all parties are willing to negotiate in good faith, we can find agreement and move our state forward,” Rauner said.

The bill provides Exelon with $235 million in ratepayer-funded zero-emission credits annually for 10 years of continued operation.

Exelon said Commonwealth Edison ratepayers are likely to see increases averaging about 25 cents/month during the life of the plan, but critics have said the increase could exceed $4. Ameren customers are likely to see increases of 12 cents/month on average, the Associated Press reported.

It caps price increases for all business classes at 1.3% over 2015 rates, Exelon said.

“This forward-looking energy policy levels the playing field and values all carbon-free energy equally, positions Illinois as a national leader in advancing clean energy and will provide a major boost to the Illinois economy,” Exelon CEO Chris Crane said in a statement.

The bill also requires “hundreds of millions of dollars” in energy efficiency spending, which has garnered environmentalist support, the AP reported.

Critics have called the bill a corporate bailout under the guise of maintaining reliability in a state that produces much more energy than it needs.

Exelon's Quad Cities Nuclear Plant | Exelon

Exelon’s Quad Cities Nuclear Plant | Exelon

Governor’s Reservations

The bill has gone through several iterations in the Democrat-controlled legislature and almost failed until Rauner, a Republican, joined the negotiation to pare down the cost. He initially offered his support then removed it after seeing language he didn’t like, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

Rauner’s statement said the bill’s cost was reduced by exempting new renewable energy projects from prevailing wage rules and “eliminating billions of dollars in special interest” funding.

Dynegy, which saw proposed subsidies for its coal plants in southern Illinois cut in the final version of the bill, told Crain’s that it would sue to overturn the law.

Exelon said the bill, which will take effect June 1, will save 4,200 direct and indirect jobs, including 900 workers at Quad Cities and 700 at Clinton. The company threatened in May to shut down the money-losing plants if they did not receive state aid. (See Bill to Save Coal, Nuclear Plants Introduced in Illinois.)

Reaction

Among those hailing the bill’s approval were the Nuclear Energy Institute, the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, which represents the wind, solar and energy efficiency industries, and the Environmental Defense Fund, which called it “the most significant clean energy economic development package in the state’s history.”

The EDF said the legislation “will fix Illinois’ broken renewable portfolio standard and significantly expand the state’s successful energy efficiency programs.”

The Alliance for Solar Choice said it was pleased that the final bill reinstated net metering and removed proposed demand charges that would have discouraged rooftop solar.

The bill increases the RPS target to 35% by 2030, up from the current 25% by 2025.

“Prior to this agreement, Illinois was meeting the criteria of its less-audacious RPS goals by investing in clean energy projects being built by neighboring states,” the Alliance said. “Illinois was not only sending money to help grow the economies of other states, but it was also missing out on countless clean energy jobs and economic growth in-state.”

The group said it will press policymakers to ensure there’s a full stakeholder process before state regulators when the bill’s 5% net metering cap is reached “to guarantee a fair valuation of the benefits of rooftop solar.”

AARP Illinois called on Rauner to veto what it called the largest rate increase in “our nation’s history.”

“The bill just passed by the legislature will send monthly consumer bills through the roof for the next 25 years, will impose massive cuts to low-income energy assistance programs and even though it will supposedly save the jobs at the nuclear plants, down the road it will cost Illinois an additional 44,000 jobs,” said AARP Illinois Director Bob Gallo.

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