Businesses and labor unions joined forces Thursday in saying negotiations over clean-energy legislation that would result in the largest rate hike in Illinois history must slow down and become more transparent.
The coalition, which included the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, Illinois Retail Merchants Association and representatives of trade unions and agriculture, said the as-yet unfinalized bill would impose a minimum of $700 million in annual energy rate increases and unnecessarily jeopardize thousands of good-paying jobs.
“This massive electric rate hike couldn’t come at a worse time for Illinois businesses and families, who will be asked to pay significantly higher monthly electrical bills,” said Mark Denzler, president and chief executive officer of the manufacturers’ association.
They used a Statehouse news conference to criticize what they believe are details of a bill backed by Gov. JB Pritzker and being negotiated with General Assembly lawmakers to promote alternative energy sources and reduce fossil-fuel emissions by eventually requiring the closure of all coal-fired plants in the next 14 to 24 years.
Supporters of an energy bill, including environmental groups, want legislation to force reductions in carbon-dioxide emissions and other pollutants, promote transitions to wind, solar and other alternative forms of energy and preserve jobs at money-losing Exelon nuclear power plants in northern Illinois.
Denzler said business groups that have heard details of issues discussed in negotiations over an energy bill fear the legislation would result in large surcharges on electric bills to help pay for the legislation’s programs and requirements.
Small commercial users, such as hardware stores and restaurants, could see electric bills rise almost 8% annually as a result, Denzler said.
Large commercial users such as grocery and big-box retail stores could see rates rise 10%, and large industrial users could see annual increases of between 10.5 and 12%, he said.
Central and southern Illinois residential customers could see their monthly electric bills rise about $7 per month, while average residential bills in the Chicago area could rise between $7 and $10 per month, Denzler said.
“Because this proposal is being drafted in secret, there’s no telling what the final price tag will be,” he said.
Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in an emailed statement after the news conference: “Bipartisan working groups have met dozens of times over the last year and convened key stakeholders to negotiate the various proposals made in the current draft of the energy bill. The governor has been clear that any energy legislation must address climate change by making meaningful progress toward moving Illinois to a renewable energy future while also protecting consumers, particularly low-income consumers.”
Abudayyeh said Illinois on Thursday was named “the No. 1 most sustainable state in the nation” by Site Selection magazine.
“This distinction is an important selling point to potential businesses looking to put roots down in a state that demonstrates its commitment to the environment and provides them opportunities to contribute to a clean-energy future,” she said.
John Patterson, spokesman for Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, said in a written statement, “We look forward to continued discussions as we work to find the proper balance for a reliable, renewable and affordable energy future in Illinois.”
The state Senate and House adjourned their spring session in June without taking any votes on a final energy bill.
Pritzker said in mid-June he hoped to call lawmakers back to Springfield within a month for a special session to finalize an energy bill he would be willing to sign into law.
It’s unclear when or whether a special session on energy legislation will take place.
Chad Goldschmidt, vice president of the Southwestern Illinois Building Trades Council, said more than 2,000 working families depend on union jobs connected with City Water, Light and Power’s coal-fired units in Springfield and at the coal-fired Prairie State Energy Campus in southern Illinois’ Washington County.
The plants already are working to reduce their carbon emissions and shouldn’t have to close as early as 2035 under a proposal being considered for the bill, Goldschmidt said.
Pritzker has proposed a compromise that would allow CWLP and Prairie Energy to keep operating their coal-fired units until 2045 if they adopted technologies that remove 90% of carbon emissions by late 2034.
Rick Terven, legislative and political director of the Illinois Pipe Trades Association, said almost 30,000 union members work at and help maintain fossil-fuel plants around the state that would be forced to close under the bill.
“We know the energy sector is rapidly changing and understand the need to transition to cleaner power in Illinois,” he said. “However, our concern is the current proposal is so aggressive and unrealistic in forcing plant closures that it will cause unnecessary pain for many workers, businesses and communities across the state.”
Terven said he has been told lawmakers want to provide a “just transition” for fossil-fuel workers to other jobs or retirement. “Unfortunately, we think the current proposal falls very short of this goal,” he said.
“We are asking the negotiators of the legislation to more fully acknowledge the effect the bill will have on working families,” Terven said. “This is such a massive issue. It’s not one we can just wing it and go back later and fix the mistakes. He have to get it right the first time.”
Jeff Dorries, chief financial officer of Alton Steel, an employee-owned steel mill with more than 250 workers, said the energy bill would threaten the company’s ability to grow. The proposal would cost the company at least $500,000 more for electricity on an annual basis, he said.
“It is important that any bill does not take away one of the biggest competitive advantages that Illinois manufacturers have,” Dorries said.