Deal to subsidize nuclear power, close coal plants passes Illinois House

(The Center Square) – An energy deal to prop up two nuclear power plants that Exelon said it would close also requires coal-fired power plants to shutter by 2045.

The deal passed the House late Thursday and goes to the Senate next. The Senate is set to return to Springfield on Monday, Senate President Don Harmon said in a statement.

“The shared goal among the Senate, House and Governor Pritzker has been to position Illinois as a national leader on reliable, renewable and affordable energy policies,” Harmon said. “This proposal accomplishes that shared goal. I commend the work the House has done to build on the progress the Senate had made.”

The measure in a House amendment to Senate Bill 2408 passed late during Thursday’s special session in the House. It includes hundreds of millions of dollars in ratepayer subsidies for Nuclear power.

Terry McGoldrick with IBEW Local 15 said passage is imperative for keeping the Byron nuclear plant open.

“The plan is right now if we don’t get something done they will take the fuel out of Unit 1 on the 13th and start removing fuel on Unit 2 on the 16th,” McGoldrick said. “Those are real dates.”

The Dresden nuclear plant is also slated for closure later this year. Exelon says the plants are suffering revenue losses.

But the measure also closes coal-fired power plants like Prairie Generation in southern Illinois and City Water Light and Power in Springfield with requirements to reduce carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2035.

CWLP Chief Engineer Doug Brown told WMAY the utility already invests in carbon reductions and having to do more down the road with a hard close date isn’t viable.

The measure does have a $20 million annual fund for CWLP and Prairie State in southern Illinois for such carbon reductions.

“It is enormous costs for the capital on those things to install on those units by 2035 only to be shut down by 2045,” Brown said. “That’s also just basically a waste of money, of taxpayer dollars, to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a technology that’s not even going to last basically ten years.”

Another element of the sweeping bill includes jobs programs in the renewable energy sector, something supported by Dulce Ortiz with the group Clean Power Lake County.

“It’s time to move to a new clean energy economy in Illinois that will address the historic inequities of pollution, create jobs in communities that need them the most,” Ortiz said.

Residential consumers will pay more than $4 extra on average per month for electricity under the bill, according to estimates.

Illinois Manufacturers’ Association President and CEO Mark Denzler said the measure will bring about the largest utility rate increase for not just residential, but also for major energy users like manufacturers. He said that could cause employers to leave the state.

“I think we need a more balanced approach, one not exclusively driven by ideology, to figure out the best path forward,” Denzler said.

Denzler also said unresolved are the reliability issues the measure raises, something he and others worry would bring about brownouts or require the purchase of coal powered electricity from neighboring states.

There are also imminent domain issues raised in the bill allowing a transmission line to go across southern Illinois, impacting farm property owners.

State Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville, said the nuclear component could have been addressed separately while other issues continue to be worked on. He said the bill “just runs right over the top of” downstate districts.

Another element would give rebates for those purchasing electric vehicles with the goal of 1 million electric vehicles on Illinois roads by 2030. It’s unclear if that would include electric motorcycles.

The Senate passed a different version in Senate Bill 18 last week. If SB2408 passes the Senate, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he’s ready to sign the bill.

“I would like to thank Speaker [Emanuel “Chris”] Welch and Leader [Marcus] Evans for their collaborative leadership in reaching a compromise amendment that puts consumers and climate first, while protecting and creating jobs,” Pritzker said before the measure passed. “I look forward to this amendment advancing … and making its way to my desk where I will sign this historic agreement into law.”

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