What’s In Illinois’ Massive Green Energy Bill?
Illinois could soon end its reliance on fossil fuels.
State lawmakers are on the cusp of passing landmark legislation that would drastically upend where Illinois residents get the power to light up their homes and businesses — gradually moving away from coal and natural gas and relying much more on renewable energy such as solar and wind.
After months of contentious negotiations between labor unions and environmental activists, two powerful contingencies that Democrats rely on for political support, the Illinois House passed a compromise last week with bipartisan support, 83-33.
The legislation now faces the next test of passing the Illinois Senate, which is scheduled to meet Monday to debate the bill. Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, recently expressed his support for the compromise, as did Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker, who would have to sign the bill for it to become law.
With so much crammed into one bill, here is a breakdown of some of the most dramatic changes to the state’s climate and energy policies that could get full legislative approval Monday.
1. Municipal coal and natural gas plants must be carbon-free by 2045.
Experts and scientists time and again say the biggest contributor to climate change is our world’s reliance on high-polluting fossil fuels. This came up most recently in a dire landmark report by 200 leading scientists who say the world needs to end its use of those fuels as soon as possible.
This proposal would take a step toward that, as it would enact a plan to decarbonize the state’s energy grid by eliminating and closing down the state’s coal and natural gas plants over time.
In the case of coal, two municipal plants — Prairie State Energy Campus in Marissa and CWLP Dallman in Springfield — would have to find a way to become carbon-free plants by 2045 or else face closure. They would also be required to reduce carbon emissions by 45% by 2038.
But that will have a trickle-down effect on cities across the state that get their energy from Prairie State, including the suburbs of Naperville, Winnetka and Batavia. They will all have to find a new source of energy. Similarly, natural gas-fired units face closure by 2045 unless they can find a way to completely eliminate carbon emissions.
2. The state pledges 100% clean energy in three decades.
So, if we take the coal plants away, what will the state replace them with?
In place of all of those carbon-emitting energy sources, the proposal calls for gradually increasing Illinois toward using more renewable energy over time, eventually having the state use 100% clean energy by 2050.
Currently, renewable energy such as wind and solar account for about 7% of the state’s energy, according to lawmakers. The legislation lawmakers are considering would have that increase to 40% by 2030.
3. Exelon’s nuclear power plants get a bailout.
The driving force behind the legislature’s recent votes has been energy giant Exelon’s threat to close some of its nuclear power plants in Illinois unless the state helps out financially. Exelon has been complaining for years that the plants lose money. The company has given the legislature until Monday to act or else it would begin the process of taking its plant in Byron offline.
The nuclear plants are a source of not only jobs, but also do not emit high-polluting carbon, both important to Democratic legislators and the governor.
The legislation authorizes $694 million in financial aid for Exelon to keep its nuclear plants online.
4. Illinois will offer $4,000 rebates if you buy an electric car.
If you want to cut fossil fuel-reliance, you have to have fewer machines that rely on fossil fuels. Thus, the push for electric vehicles.
The legislation establishes a goal of 1 million electric vehicles in Illinois by 2030. To encourage residents to buy such a vehicle, the state would offer a $4,000 rebate to customers. It’s also offering rebates of up to 80% of the cost to install charging stations. A recent New York Times article raised the issue of the need for more charging stations across the country.
5. Residents will probably pay more for electricity.
There have been wildly different estimates for what the legislation will mean to consumers’ electric bills.
House Democrats estimated residents could see an increase on each of their monthly bills of about $4.50. Business groups such as the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, however, have derided the legislation as “the largest electricity rate hike in Illinois history.”
The AARP Illinois, which also is in opposition to the plan, contends Illinois families could expect to see their bills increase by as much as $15 per month.
6. What about ComEd?
While this is an energy bill that’s meant to curb carbon emissions and support green energy, the debate over the bill came with a certain elephant in the room — one of the state’s largest public corruption scandals, which involved utility giant Commonwealth Edison.
Last year, ComEd admitted that it embarked in a years-long effort to bribe former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan in exchange for favorable legislation, which included the ability to essentially guarantee the company a profit, year after year. Madigan, however, denies wrongdoing and has not been charged.
In light of the scandal, Pritzker originally proposed several ethics measures to be a part of this energy package. Many of those reforms, however, did not end up in the bill. What it would do, if passed and signed into law, is require legislators to disclose any relatives who are employed by a utility and requires each utility to employ a chief ethics and compliance officer who must file an annual report to the Illinois Commerce Commission, the state’s utility regulatory body.
There is language in the bill that also would authorize the Illinois Commerce Commission to open an investigation into whether electric ratepayers are entitled to any restitution from ComEd because of its admitted wrongdoing. The ICC already has opened that probe. But the bill doesn’t make clear whether consumers might be entitled to a noticeable refund or mere pennies — if that.
Tony Arnold covers state politics for WBEZ. Follow @tonyjarnold.