By Shepard Price
September 12, 2021 - Late Thursday, the Illinois House approved an energy policy bill which aims toward a carbon-free future while also using taxpayer money for a $700 million bailout of Commonwealth Edison's parent company, Exelon.
The measure passed with 83 votes in favor, needing 71. The bill, Senate Bill 2408, now heads to the Illinois Senate.
The Senate is scheduled to return to Springfield on Monday to vote on the House proposal. Pritzker said he will sign the bill as soon as possible. Exelon has threatened to close the nuclear plant in Byron if the bailout doesn't pass on Monday.
"Today, with the House passage of SB 2408, the State of Illinois is one historic step closer to reaching a 100 percent clean energy future," Pritzker said in a statement. "For many years, comprehensive energy legislation that puts consumers and the climate first has been debated while scientists around the world have sounded the alarm about the growing impacts of climate change. 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. 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.
"The days of utility companies writing energy legislation to pad their profits has ended because SB2408 puts consumers and climate at the forefront, prioritizes meaningful ethics and transparency reforms, and institutes key ratepayer and residential customer protections," Pritzker continued.
Pritzker thanked members of the Clean Jobs Coalition and labor leaders for "fighting for working families across the state and ensuring a just energy transition for Illinois' energy workforce."
The package would increase power bills for residential customers by an average of $4.50 Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago, who sponsored the bill, said.
Two pillars of Democratic support, labor union groups and environmentalists, both back the plan. The two sides had been debating throughout the summer how to phase out municipally-owned coal plants in Springfield and near St. Louis in Washington County.
The Illinois General Assembly has spent time this summer attempting to pass a bill addressing clean energy, but saw efforts stall out due to feuding between labor and environmentalists. A previous version of this bill failed to pass due to concerns about phasing out natural gas-fueled plants before the middle of the century, which was an integral part of Pritzker's plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to WBEZ.
The bill sets a target for the Prairie State Generating Station — one of the U.S.'s largest sources of carbon pollution — and Springfield's city-owned plant to reduce climate-damaging emissions by 45% by 2035 and completely eliminate them by 2045, per the Chicago Tribune.
That goal was set by an amendment from earlier this week requiring coal plants to be 100% carbon-free by Dec. 31, 2045. The plants can use any technology, including the burning of hydrogen produced by renewable power, to meet those levels, Reuters reported.
"This bill provides a clear path to reducing our carbon emissions. It puts Illinois on a clear timeline to a greener economy. It makes significant investments in the development of renewable energy. It protects jobs and people in your communities," House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch of Hillside said Thursday.
The plan faces opposition from consumer advocates who argue that the bill is a giveaway to ComEd and Exelon after ComEd's recent scandal, admitting in federal court in 2020 that the company engaged in a long bribery scheme in Springfield. Two Exelon nuclear plants were bailed out in 2016 as part of that bribery scheme.
Republicans opposed the Democrats' latest effort, and cited concerns about energy reliability with the elimination of fossil fuel-burning plants.
"This is an energy bill; it’s not an energy plan whatsoever," Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer of Jacksonville said. "It has no plan for the future. It just has consequences."
"I voted against the energy bill approved tonight because it severely impacts manufacturing jobs in the Metro East," Amy Elik, R-Fosterburg, said in a statement. "It schedules Prairie State Energy Campus for closure, putting hundreds of people out of work in our region and thousands out of work throughout Illinois. The energy bill forces the largest utility rate increase in the history of Illinois onto ratepayers. Manufacturers need electricity to manufacture, the bill approved today will result in less energy produced to meet our energy demands, leaving businesses with nowhere to turn except to move out of Illinois.
"The energy policies coming out of Springfield and Washington continue to harm manufacturing jobs in our state," Elik continued. "I hope the State Senate votes down this bad energy bill when they meet in Springfield next week."
Consumer advocates argue that the plan would further policies guaranteeing profits for ComEd and Ameren Illinois.
"The General Assembly is choosing to continue rewarding scandal-plagued ComEd with guaranteed profits," Abe Scarr, director of the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, told the House Executive Committee on Thursday. "This outcome is absolutely unnecessary."
The proposal faces opposition from business groups including the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Manufacturers' Association due to the potential cost for commercial and industrial power customers, the Tribune reported.