Illinois could close all coal plants by 2035 under proposal up for vote this week

Illinois could close all coal plants by 2035 under proposal up for vote this week

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – State lawmakers are on the verge of passing what advocates call the country’s most aggressive climate bill.

Energy experts say the Pritzker administration’s proposal would shut down all coal plants in the state by 2035. This plan would also phase out natural gas by 2045. They hope it can pave a new path towards green energy in Illinois.

Senators are heading back to Springfield to debate the clean energy plan Tuesday. The House plans to vote on the measure Wednesday. Although, lawmakers haven’t filed the bill language yet.

Lawmakers could provide $700 million over five years for Exelon nuclear plants in Byron, Morris, and Braidwood. The Illinois Environmental Council says the plan can support workers at those plants and secure reliable, carbon-free electricity without an unjustified bailout. IEC Executive Director Jennifer Walling explained Exelon would receive $5 billion less than what the utility hoped for.

“Instead of $560 million a year over 10 years, we’ve provided them an amount that will keep the plants open, make them competitive, but not contribute to excess profits for this company,” Walling said.

Exelon is the parent company of Commonwealth Edison. Last summer, the Chicago utility was caught in a bribery scandal in Springfield that implicated former Speaker Mike Madigan.

Walling says communities with Exelon plants have many opportunities to move into a renewable economy.

“Rockford can enter into the renewable energy market through solar energy, through energy efficiency, through long-term economic and equity gains,” Walling said.

Looking out for the energy workers

The plan also creates a bill of rights for plant workers displaced during closures. Advocates say it could help them find new opportunities in the energy sector. This plan could require plant owners to give a two-year notice for employees before their plant closes.

However, downstate lawmakers and coal plant workers say their plants shouldn’t close by 2035. They argue the facilities are relatively new and already clean compared to others across the country.

The coal plants in Springfield and Marissa have several thousand employees and support an additional thousand trade union members. Union advocates argue there will be devastating consequences if this legislation passes and closes the facilities before the end of their useful timelines.

“Energy policy is complex,” noted Aaron Gurnsey, President of the Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council. “All we’re asking for is more time to make the transition to new energy sources in a responsible manner that protects workers and taxpayers.”

Getting power from other states or buying renewable

Fifty-two lawmakers signed a letter to Gov. JB Pritzker and top legislative leaders expressing their opposition to the early closure of the two municipal power plants. Rep. Mike Murphy (R-Springfield) says Illinois will need to get power from other states in order to make up for the shuttered plants.

“Likely, that will come from Indiana coal – Indiana, Missouri, or Kentucky coal. So, are we really improving the environment if we’re gonna replace coal with coal,” Murphy asked. “What we’re going to do is lose Illinois jobs.”

However, Walling says municipal utilities need to look to the future instead of making decisions that tie them to the past. She feels now is the best time for those communities to invest in renewable resources.

“It’s much cheaper in a lot of situations than coal or natural gas,” Walling explained. “You have the state of Iowa at almost a third wind power at this point. These technologies are growing and changing.”

Over 50 lawmakers say they won’t vote for a plan that allows the coal plants to stay open. The proposal will need a 3/5 majority in both chambers in order to pass since lawmakers are returning after the May 31 deadline.

Business groups warn of rate hike

A large group of business organizations sent a letter to leaders Monday urging them to rethink the plan. Over 20 business leaders argue this proposal could be the largest rate hike for Illinois customers and businesses in history.

“This legislation not only includes a rate hike for low-income families in every part of this state, but also on every business and organization large and small. Lobbyists for the environmental community and many others appear to have had unfettered access in writing a bill that imposes massive costs on others,” wrote the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, Retail Merchants Association, and Municipal League among others.

The business groups believe the first installment of the price increase for businesses and local governments could be $700 million annually. They also noted customers could pay an additional $215 million for renewable energy programs without their input.

Still, Walling believes customers will only see a slight rate impact. She says a lot of these are line changes, so the actual impact will come on the bill. Walling explained the state will work on several options to reduce bills for consumers and businesses.

“We’re going to see new opportunities for energy efficiency for customers to lower their bills,” Walling said. “Even if you don’t use energy efficiency, your bills go down because you don’t need to build as much transmission and infrastructure. We think this is something that is going to be balanced and give us the opportunity to keep rates and bills in Illinois very low.”

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